The Price Paid to Fit In in Elementary Schools in Korea?
Backpacks are all the rage in South Korea, specifically for students. Even elementary school students.
If you’ve heard all the hullabaloo about education in South Korea and the costs of the socially compulsory private lessons to go along with public school education, add some more to the list: backpacks going for up to 700,000 KRW (approx. 640 USD) from Randoseru, backpacks with special “spine protecting” padding or 14 karat gold studs and zippers, pencil cases going for up to 88,000 KRW (approx. 80 USD), pens for 30,000 KRW (approx. 27 USD). And let me repeat, for elementary school students.
Give me one of those backpacks and let me pay off a month of my college loan.
This may sound familiar to you. If you’ve seen the SBS drama “Pinocchio,” you may be surprised that the backpack episode wasn’t a fabrication created solely for the purpose of the drama.
It’s a real thing, experienced by real students and parents of students in Korea. It’s ridiculous, it’s hierarchy, it’s a lot of money invested into something your child will just grow out of. Money invested by parents, whether or not they are financially comfortable doing so.
The trend has even given birth to a new term: “six pocket,” referring to the fact that for one child, six pockets – from the mom and dad and both sets of grandparents – have to open up for these school items. In some places, it’s “eight pocket.”
MBC News spoke to some parents of students: “The moms go for the more expensive bags, thinking ‘what if our kid gets bullied at school’…” Some even express the concern that their child might “fall behind” in school, though a backpack has nothing to do with grades. One salesperson states, “The parents are really sensitive about things like the weight of the bag.”
The backpack industry grows every year, and, according to MBC News, it is a predicted 300 billion KRW (approx. 273.7 million USD) industry this year. One anchorwoman for YTN suggests a better investment for children: investing in trips or things that result in experience that will stay with the child, rather than materials, which are just that. Materials.
But in a society where everything is a competition – even jumprope, says one elementary student, who eventually worked her way up to the “top level” of jump ropers – having the best and most expensive backpack is a must.
The competition isn’t just for the children at school, it’s for the parents at home, too. One parent says, “When we were young we never got a lot of the stuff we wanted. It’s a vicarious satisfaction, when our kid gets what they want. And when our child is carrying something really nice, they get that attention, and people think, ‘What kind of people are that child’s parents?’ and through that, I look better.”