WORLD / ASIA-PACIFIC
Hush in S.Korea as students sit tough exam
Public offices, banks and stock market opening hour late to reduce traffic
Published: Nov 18, 2021 04:58 PM
Quarantine workers disinfect a classroom for the state-administrated college entrance test at Seokgwan High School in Seoul, South Korea on November 16, 2021, two days before the test to be taken by 509,821 students nationwide amid the pandemic, Yonhap News Agency said. Photo: VCG

Quarantine workers disinfect a classroom for the state-administrated college entrance test at Seokgwan High School in Seoul, South Korea on November 16, 2021, two days before the test to be taken by 509,821 students nationwide amid the pandemic, Yonhap News Agency said. Photo: VCG

A hush fell over South Korea Thursday as more than half a million students sat the grueling, high-stakes national university entrance exam, with authorities taking extraordinary measures to minimize distractions.

The nine-hour test is crucial not only for securing spots in top universities, but is also considered key for elevated social status, lucrative careers and even marriage prospects.

The enormous pressure on students in South Korea's ultra-competitive education system has been blamed for teenage depression and suicide rates that are among the highest in the world.

One parent was keen to ease the stress ahead of the 2021 exam, locally known as "Suneung."

"I just want to tell my daughter that I'm proud of her for working so hard up until this point, and that this test, regardless of the result, doesn't define who she is as a person," Koh Min-soon, the mother of a test-taker, told AFP on Wednesday.

Since 2020, COVID-19 has added to the pressure on students, parents and education authorities.

All classes became online for exam takers in the two weeks leading up to the test, while the students and their families were advised to stay at home as much as possible in that time.

More than 509,000 students are taking the test in 2021, the education ministry said.

Outside the school gate, some people were seen praying while others took selfies with friends and family.

Throughout the exam, which started at 8:40 am, students were required to wear face masks.

South Korea has seen a surge in cases in the run-up to the exam, reporting nearly 3,300 infections Thursday - its highest-ever daily case count.

Students arriving for the test were checked, and those showing COVID-19 symptoms had to take it in separate designated spaces.

Some 70 students will sit the exam despite recently testing positive for coronavirus, at medical facilities with desks and chairs specially prepared for them.

The national importance of the exam is reflected in the extraordinary measures South Korean authorities take to remove any disturbance for test-takers.

Public offices, banks and the stock market open an hour later than usual to help ease traffic and ensure students arrive on time for the exam.

All take-offs and landings at the country's airports are suspended for 35 minutes during an English listening test. All planes in the air must maintain an altitude higher than 3,000 meters.

The South Korean transport ministry said 79 flights - 16 of them international - have been rescheduled because of the exam.

Police car and motorbike escorts were available in school areas for any students stuck in traffic or running late.

AFP
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