South Korea takes education so seriously that a teacher can become a millionaire if they’re good enough, some even reaching celebrity status. That’s the case of Cha Kil-young, a top-ranked math teacher who, on Thursday, reported he raked in a whopping $8 million during 2014. Cha runs an online “hagwon”, a cram school that specializes in prepping students for South Korea’s version of the SAT and other college entrance exams. Cha broadcasts from a studio in the ultra-glamorous and wealthy Gangnam district of Seoul. It’s also not uncommon for Cha’s broadcasts to include famous guests such as Kpop idols, actors and other South Korean celebs. A recent guest of his being Clara, a South Korean mega celebrity, who joined him to sing a duet titled “SAT Jackpot!” in a full-blown pop music video.
However, many critique the pressure the Korean education system can put on students, the highly-competitive format that follows students from preschool all the way to college, the longer school days which can be 16-hours longs with regular classes lasting until 4 p.m., a break for dinner, going home, followed by extracurriculars in the evenings plus occasional Saturday classes. Comparing that jam-packed schedule to the average U.S. school day — 8 hours — the system sounds exhausting, at best, and oppressive, at worst, but something has to be said for the fact that South Korean schools are preparing students to enter top tier universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton in the U.S., and eventually success in the job market, while U.S. public schools fail to prepare American students to attend its own universities. That the majority of U.S. students can’t even enter college without going into crippling debt only to leave college unable to compete in the domestic and global job market with their foreign counterparts.