Misery in dark shadows behind the high achievement scores in South Korean schooling: an ethnographic study

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Colleges, School and Institutes


This article explores some of the hidden background behind the highly praised school results in South Korea. An ethnographic case study is used to cast light on how schooling is actually experienced by South Korean students. Two main results are reported from these data. First, evidence is presented of damaging cultural elements such as internalised norms of resistance and conformity, symbolised helplessness, studying without any interest in controversial issues, an internalised culture of “dealing” and widespread playing with mobile phones, sleeping and applying make-up in class. Second, evidence is presented of an institutionalised school violence involving
mechanisms of control, abusive and violent everyday language, explicit school violence and delinquent/deviant behaviour. The article concludes that there is something unique and deeply disturbing about institutionalised violence in South Korean schools and that the
abysmally low subjective wellbeing levels of pupils are no coincidence.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-217
JournalEducational Review
Issue number2
Early online date20 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2017


  • South Korean education, school culture , ethnographic case study , institutionalised violence , covert violence