The PISA results are out for 2012 and Korea was near the top with regard to scores again. Koreans take great pride in performing strongly on standardized tests and enjoy ranking in the top of PISA. But after living in Korea for seven years, I think a more interesting question to ask about the PISA results is what is the true cost of these wonderful test results? Every year Korean students go to hundreds of extra hours of "hagwon" (cram school) in a variety of topics outside of the regular school day. According to Rhie (2002), in the book Korea Unmasked, the extra study programs were a $1 trillion industry in 2002. Imagine what the cost must be today!
The World Happiness Index for 2013 also recently came out and the East Asia countries that performed so outstanding on PISA, also happen to do rather poorly in terms of happiness. Korea ranked 41st in terms of happiness. Could it be that the very same actions that push the PISA results in East Asia ever upward are also the same actions that cause people to be unhappy? Possible. Could it be that pushing children to extra study is actually a little counter productive? Very likely.
The Danes perform in the middle of the pack in PISA, but are the happiest people in the world. Is it possible that test results and happiness aren't the same thing? Certainly. And what about my poor adopted brothers, the Turks? They ranked near the bottom in PISA and are 77th in the Happiness Index. Could it be time for the voters in Turkey to end AK Party's dominance? Absolutely.