The mental health toll on youths within these societies has not gone unnoticed. In fact, it has been the subject of hot debate and criticism, and education systems have started to change in response.
Since 2000, Hong Kong’s education system has undergone reforms, such as the introduction of liberal studies into the curriculum and the reduction of the number of national exams to just one in the DSE. Likewise, South Korea’s education ministry has abolished private high schools and increased the weight given to CSAT scores in university admissions since 2018. These changes make the education system more equitable—private high schools, which typically charge premium tuition fees, often run separate curricula designed to prepare students for the CSAT. Singapore too, has reduced the number of exams in schools and avoided streaming students in secondary schools.
But exactly how extensive are these changes, and do they make a significant difference? In Hong Kong, students remain banded into different secondary schools based on performance. Public opinion in Hong Kong still holds that education reforms have been slow to address mental health issues, despite these changes., For South Korea, critics say that the increased emphasis on CSAT scores encourages cramming, which only serves to exacerbate severe stress among students.
It remains to be seen if these changes across Hong Kong’s, Korea’s, and Singapore’s education systems can ease the high-pressure environments that have built up in their schools. Education systems are large, hulking machines, and any systemic change will likely require a long time to fully take hold.