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Unveiling Pedagogical Portrayals: An Analysis of Educational Themes in Korean TV Dramas

By now we all know that Korean TV Dramas have taken over globally with Netflix constantly booming with daily recommendations and being rated in the top 10 consistently in Pakistan. Initially, I had not been a fan of themes of romantic comedies that were fantasized through slow-motion shots that take up at least 30 minutes of screen time until I was introduced to the well-known drama "True Beauty" which dealt with multi-faceted issues of high-school bullying, teacher and parental negligence, the consistent stress of academic excellence, conforming to unrealistic female beauty standards wrapped in the freshness of teenage romance which I will focus on.

The reason such a show is largely viewed by a female audience is that stories of many Korean dramas centre around the female protagonist who navigates high school and complex teenage relationships. The representation of parental guidance, surveillance as well and the conservative norms surrounding teenage girls make it quite similar to how school life is in Pakistan thus making it a relatable watch.


Media portrayals of education have largely been glamorized with adults playing characters aged 18-19 setting unrealistic expectations for how a student should look, especially through exceptionally detailed outfits that resemble those seen on a fashion runway instead of the actual two-toned uniforms that most teenagers adore. Schools are only shown as a place of social engagement rather than an institution of knowledge, as with several famous U.S TV shows such as Never Have I Ever, Gossip Girl, Riverdale and more.


Pedagogy is not a tool for the storyline but rather emphasized in Korean TV Dramas, where there is a model student consistently ranking 1st in the class and the cause of envy for the rest since familial as well as scholastic pressures of academic excellence are pushed in South-Korean society where a student's reality is the rigorous education system as even the day for students attempting their College Aptitude Test is considered to be a national holiday in the nation. True Beauty's take on academic anxiety and a consistent feeling of amounting to nothing as standards of validation are set based on the performance of others, the character Kang Soo Jin embodies the emotions felt by a student struggling to please her parents who weaponize her ranking 2nd and not meeting expectations to employ abusive behaviour against her.


She adopts coping mechanisms such as aggressively washing hands that cause excessive dryness to her hands and even going to the extent of expressing disloyalty to her friends. This depiction unfortunately remains to be a reality for many. In contrast, the female lead is seen as having supportive parents who although consistently scold her for ranking last in her classes do not resort to verbal abuse to belittle their daughter which makes the show digestible yet heart-warming as a sign of hope and encouragement to not seek academic validation through achieving the best grades but with achieving consistency in hard-work.


Teacher representation has also been the centre of not only True Beauty but many high-school-based TV shows including Sky-Castle and the most recent Crash Course in Romance, where the main goal for many students is to enter the math academy for the incredibly intelligent Professor Choi Chi Yul who put forward the most motivating dialogue throughout the show

“I only expect one thing from you, guys. Guess what it is. Acing the math exam? No. Grade improvement? That will come naturally as you take my course. I want you guys to be as passionate as I am”

This speaks to how pedagogy in Korean dramas brings more light to establishing a self-identity rather than revolving it entirely around the strict grading system that prevails. Through such refreshing yet impactful viewpoints, several young teenage female viewers can be pushed towards establishing themselves as an individual rather than revolving their educational journey around the idea of marriage as we often see in Pakistani TV serials. There may be an apparent shifting of gender roles in such storylines of romance however each female character has been shown as ambitious and strong-minded towards their goals before they fall deep in love with their male counterparts. True Beauty despite being a teenage drama dealt incredibly well with issues of academic excellence and growing pains that several viewers are able to relate and learn from.


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Mariam
Mariam
Dec 01, 2023

I always used to be fascinated with how much K-dramas are popular in Pakistan, and this blog pretty much sums it all up! The way these shows portray the pressures of academic excellence and parental expectations, highlighting the struggles of students grappling with these challenges draws parallels to many Pakistani experiences. I think it also in part has to do with people wanting a break from overly glamorized Hollywood shows, and narrow-minded Pakistani dramas that only revolve around married couples' woes. The romance genre of K-dramas is especially very popular among young people here, I guess because a lot of the Pakistani dramas don't portray romance openly and treat love as something to be ashamed about. Moreover, the men i…

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EXACTLYY! it is such a refreshing take that we no longer feel the need to delve back into American teenage tv dramas or even those in Pakistan. Reality under fantasy becomes K-dramas biggest tool for its popularity and education is just one theme they really accurate form a representation of.

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I have never watched a K-drama by your blog post offers a fascinating insight into the appeal and impact of Korean TV dramas. I was especially intrigued by the comparison of the educational and societal pressures in South Korea to those in Pakistan, highlighting the universal nature of these themes.

What stood out to me was the analysis of how K-dramas, unlike some Western counterparts, place a significant emphasis on education and the realities of academic pressure. The exploration of how these shows tackle issues like academic anxiety, familial expectations, and the struggle for self-identity in a competitive educational environment is both insightful and relatable. I loved the focus on the character development in "True Beauty," especially the contrast between…

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I would definitely recommend for you to watch one, not just education themes but an even wider aspect of problematic women representation are effectively dealt with in much developed storylines. There are further parallels between Korean and Pakistani TV dramas as well as contrasting representations but such depictions of what is the reality of such deep-rooted issues without sugar coating any detail is why it brings about such a wide viewership.

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I've recently started watching K-Dramas. Your analysis of Korean TV dramas and their depiction of education is incredibly insightful. It's fascinating how these shows tackle issues like academic stress, beauty standards, and the dynamics between students, parents, and teachers. I'm curious, do you think these dramas reflect real-life attitudes in South Korea or are they more about challenging societal norms? Also, have you noticed any changes or trends in how education is portrayed across different shows? It's intriguing to consider how these themes might resonate with audiences worldwide. Great analysis!


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I've honestly never watched a k-drama and it's refreshing to see that they're not the stereotypical teenage drama that we get to see throughout mass media. It's also interesting to see how different cultures emphasize on different things specially through their productions. There's a stark contrast between this and US dramas as you pointed out as well and I do think that also points largely towards the culture of consumerism in the US. I personally love shows circling around romance and after reading so many blogs including this one, I've gotten a major reality check on the type of media I'm consuming.

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I have never watched k-dramas, but after reading your post I kind of want to because I feel like it might be a breath of fresh air after consuming the same storylines for so long. The fact that pakistani dramas have made marriage the focal point of a woman’s life and made the already existing toxicity regarding it worse, makes one think if we are gradually becoming more progressive or regressive?

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Those were exactly my thoughts when I first ended up watching one episode and I was not left disappointed because it showed me how even in conservative societies there can be much more progressive representation of women and their struggles in a patriarchal society than just a marriage plot-line which yes is just a regression at this point in any media form.

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