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When our youth fail to dream

Apr 11,2017
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After a teacher at a middle school in Gangnam Distirct, southern Seoul, asked his students what they wanted to be in the future, a majority of the 30 students replied that they wanted to be rich, with nothing to do. Some of the answers could have been a joke. But it is really depressing that a considerable number of our younger generation simply dream of being a person who can spend money with no job for the rest of their lives.

Gangnam is notorious for its parents’ passion for private education. Most students return home late at night, exhausted after studying at a series of cram schools. Elementary school students are no exception. These days, they even carry wheeled travel bags because they have so many books they need to bring to private academies.

As a result, the roads are always crammed with parents trying to pick up their kids to drive them home safely after 10 p.m. When it comes to the fervor for education, Gangnam District is probably second to none in the world.

But in such a place, so many students only dream of being rich, without having any real ambition of doing anything meaningful. They would surely understand from reading the biographies of great men and women that a dream can serve as a lighthouse just as the North Star can guide one during a storm.

They must have heard the famous saying, “Boys, be ambitious!” Yet they dream of simply being wealthy after being so pressured by parents to study at cram schools where the curriculum is still based on rote learning, lacking the creativity that the 21st century demands of them.

The Korean economy faces an unprecedented crisis. Its growth rate continues to go down and its gross national income still hovers below the $30,000 level, as it has for the past two decades. A few companies have managed to earn more profit than before, but the overall atmosphere is still chilly.

What brings life to the economy is entrepreneurship and innovation. But the spirit of challenge is doomed in Korea. According to the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship & Development Index, Korea ranked 27th among 137 countries, despite its 11th rank in GDP. Korea is even behind Estonia and Slovenia, whose GDPs are ranked 102nd and 82nd. Management guru Peter Drucker ranked Korea’s entrepreneurship at the top, but that was 20 years ago.

Entrepreneurship is not owned by businesspeople alone. It’s about a challenging spirit to innovate. The spirit is not raised by schools overnight. It begins to sprout when it is cultivated from the early stage of their lives. Our current education systems do not allow even one mistake, which shuts the door for another to try and succeed. Nevertheless, our presidential candidates are pouring out abstract pledges for our education, being totally distant from the realities. If our youth have no dreams, the country has no future.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 10, Page 30

*The author is head of the Innovation Lab at JoongAng Ilbo.

KIM CHANG-GYU