Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Academic Pressure and Teens in the US and South Korea: Is it worth it?

Academic Pressure and Teens in the US and South Korea: Is it worth it?

APA National Standards for High School Psychology

Content Standard: Stress and coping
1.1 Define stress as a psychophysiological reaction.
1.2 Identify and explain potential sources of stress.
1.3 Explain physiological and psychological consequences for health.

Content Standard: Social and cultural diversity
1.2 Identify how cultures change over time and vary within nations as well as internationally.

– Understand the basics of stress as a psychophysiological reaction
– Evaluate the positive and negative elements of stress
– Discuss the range of potential stressors for teenagers
– Understand the Korean high school system including the use of extensive high stakes tests
– Compare academic stress in high schools in the United States compared to stress in high schools South Korea

1. Anticipatory Set: Worksheet
a. Hand out “Stressed Out!” Worksheet to students (Handout A at end of lesson plan)
b. “Stressed Out!” worksheet could be filled out individually or in partners/small groups depending on teacher preference.
c. Once finished with worksheet, elicit responses for each question from the class. It would be helpful to collect information about the scaled score responses, but not necessary if it is too inconvenient.

2. Video Clip
a. Show the following clip to use to set the stage for comparison with South Korea. The video clip shows an overview of the long hours of Korean schooling along with information about stress levels of Koreans and its connection to suicide rates.
i. BBC Clip (3:24) – Is Korean Education the Best in the World?

3. Article Reading
a. Three articles will be used (below). These can be randomly assigned or assigned based on reading ability of each student.
i. USA could learn from South Korean schools
1. By David J. Lynch, USA TODAY Updated 11/24/2008 1:42 PM
ii. An Assault Upon Our Children: South Korea’s Educational System Hurts Students
iii. High performance, high pressure in South Korea’s education system
1. International Consultants for Education and Fairs

4. Group Collaboration
a. Divide student into groups of three-five students who all read the same article.
1. Have each group come up with the following items (below). They can share this information on giant post it note/butcher paper/white board segments/google slide.
a. Two main ideas
b. Two interesting facts or ideas
c. One visual that would help them explain what they read to others
1. Have each group fill out Handout B as a group which they can share with the large group in the next step.

5. Large Group Reporting
a. Have each group share briefly with the large group about their article.
b. Briefly combine thoughts from groups into common themes. Make sure that (at minimum) the following themes come through:
i. The Korean educational system/culture creates test scores that are higher than most countries, including the United States
ii. Korean students attend school much longer than US students do each day
iii. Korean students have higher levels of stress/suicide rates than US students do

6. Small Group Debrief (or Journal entry)
a. Have students debrief their thoughts about the school systems, results, and stress levels via the questions on Handout C. If time, have students do this in new heterogeneous groups.
b. This debrief and wrap up can be done as a group discussion or assigned as a journal reflection.

Differentiation for students – selection of specific articles based on reading ability.

Differentiation for students – as students of differing ability have varying stress levels, it may be helpful to create homogeneous groups based on ability or based on subjective stress levels as measured by the survey in the written portion.

Technology – If classroom has access to technology to collect data in real time (laptops, clickers, cell phones), collecting the data on the classroom survey electronically would be helpful in that students may be able to see results quickly after the survey is administered via google, etc.

Some of the elements of the lesson could be streamlined or used as homework
Small group debrief could be transformed into a homework assignment.
Students could read the article ahead of the class period.

– Deeper exploration of Korea schools
– Show longer clip about Korean Education (see teacher background information)
– Discuss other differences between Korean and American schools (see teacher background information for starting resources)
– Connection to other cultures:
Use the example of Finland to problematize the stress/achievement model. How does culture impact achievement and ability?
What the best education systems are doing right

Academic Pressure Pushing S. Korean Students to Suicide [Video File]. Retrieved from

Choi, Amy S. (2014) What the best education systems are doing right. Retrieved from

Differences between North American and South Korean Students [Video File]. Retrieved from

International Consultants for Education and Fairs (ICEF). High performance, high pressure in South Korea’s education system. Retrieved from

Is Korean Education the Best in the World? [Video File]. Retrieved from

Koo, Se-Woong (2014). An Assault Upon Our Children: South Korea’s Educational System Hurts Students. Retrieved from

Lynch, David J (2008). USA could learn from South Korean Schools. Retrieved from

Ten Facts about Korean Schools. Retrieved from

  • Emily Osborne
  • Mahtomedi High School
Related History Institute
Grade Level
  • High School: 9, 10, 11, 12
Time Frame
  • 1-2 class periods

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