Work first, study later


KOREA’S OBSESSION with education is legendary. There are temples devoted to prayers to help youngsters get in to Ivy League colleges in the US, and regular articles about how some children study for more than 12 hours a day to do well.

More than 98 per cent of Koreans have a high school education, but many graduates are not finding employment. A large percentage of them try to get work in one of the chaebols – the industrial conglomerates such as Hyundai or Samsung that form the lion’s share of South Korea’s economy.

But there is no room at the chaebol these days and youth unemployment in June was 6.4 per cent, twice the national average. A quarter of third-level graduates under the age of 30 are not in education, work or training. By some estimates, the real youth unemployment rate is 22 per cent. In Ireland, it is about 30 per cent and in the US about 17 per cent.

South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, said in 2008 that the old model of “one-size-fits-all” government-led uniform curriculums and an education system that is locked only on the college entrance examination, was no longer acceptable. He has started to argue for young people not to go to college, but straight into the workforce.

The government is now encouraging a “work first, study later” programme and is offering companies tax incentives of up to 20 million won (€13,900) to companies for every secondary school graduate they employ.

There are job fairs to encourage teenagers to explore other options and the results are beginning to show. Banks nearly tripled the number of high-school graduate recruits in the first half of 2012 compared with the same period last year, Bloomberg reported.