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South Korea:Tablo, A Rapper and the Obsession With Good Degrees

Recently, a famous rapper Tablo's (Daniel Seon Woong Lee) has been questioned fiercely online regarding his Stanford degree. This scene of people fussing about pop stars’ education background is rather common in Korean art field, where Shin Jeong Ah who made her way through a chief curator position in Seoul's most prestigious museum by using forged Yale credentials shook the nation in 2007. In response to the scandal, many celebrities hurriedly went through the degree verification process. Kim Young Oak, a star philosopher in South Korea more commonly known by his pen name ‘Do-ol', made public his Harvard Ph.D graduation certificate and dissertation immediately after the Shin's scandal, to dispel any doubt on his educational background.

Tablo, a Canadian of Korean descent hip hop artist is among top celebrities in Korea. Tablo’s hip hop group, the Epik High's albums have made numerous huge hits in and outside Korea and it's recent album ranked as the number one on the iTunes Hip hop chart in mid March. Tablo has been featured in many mainstream media, including the CNN, and his Stanford background catches the public attention. Below is the CNN interview at Youtube:

The doubt about his education background was firstly put forward by a blogger ‘whatbecomes’ who, rather unreasonably, attacked Tablo's English's ability. In order to clear the doubt, the University and Tablo’s professor from Standford have repeatedly confirmed Tablo’s degree and Table supporters also obtained verifications through the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), which is one of the most trusted source for degree and enrollment information:

A photo of NSC credential from the Naver blog.

Despite the fact that the verifications of Tablo's degree have been put forward by various sources, a number of netizens continued to question the details, such as the inconsistence of the date of attendance. Tablo finally lost his patience and tweeted on June 3 that:

흥미를 위해 저를 공격하는 사람들 때문에 저와 저의 학교, 일반 인터넷 사용자들, 다양한 방송 관계자들과 기자들이 모두 저의 학력을 수차례 인증했습니다… 모든 사실을 부정하면서 끝없이 저와 저의 부모님까지 욕하고…저 아빠가 된지 얼마 안됐어요….더 이상 소중한 시간 뺏기기 싫어요.

Because of those people attacking me just for fun, me, my school, some Internet users, various media people and journalists had to go over and over the degree certification process so many times…Theses people, do not try to accept the truth and went on insulting me and my parent incessantly… See, I recently became a father of my kid… and I don’t want to waste my precious time on this matter, no more.

As people's frenzyness on famous people's college degrees came to light by Tablo's case, many begin to look for a connection between the degree forgery and the preference given by the Korean society to people from prestigious schools. Serious discussions diagnosing the situation are looming over the internet. A blogger from the Jstarclub.com commented that this incident demonstrates how significant an individual's educational background is in Korean society.

국내에서 타블로가 처음에 주목을 받게 된 것은 그의 음악적 재능과 실력 때문이기도 하지만 그를 뒤받침 해준 것은 그의 학위였다…국내의 여론이나 시청자들은 높은 고학력을 가진 이들에게 유독 친근함과 좋은 감정을 드러내는 게 사실이다. 그만큼 한국 사회에서 학벌이란 무시할 수 없는 가치이기 때문이다.

Tablo got recognized in Korea partly because of his musical talent and ability, but what really supported him is his diploma…Local media and audiences have shown intimacy and favoritism toward people with higher educational background. In Korean society, one’s educational background is a crucial value that cannot be ignored.

The experience of faking one's degree can start as early as the kids get into the elementary school. The ‘Human Rights Oreum’ (Oreum means a Rise in Korean), a human rights activist weekly magazine in Seoul posted an article titled ‘Degree fabrication is stemmed from a credentials-centered society’ on it's site. The author recalls his shameful childhood memory of him lying about his parents educational backgrounds.

학교에서 조사하는 가정환경조사 중에 ‘부모님 학력'을 적는 칸이 있었어요. 한참을 망설이다가 엄마는 ‘중학교 졸업', 아빠는 ‘고등학교 중퇴'라고 적었어요. 부모님 몰래 말이지요. 사실은 두 분 모두 초등학교 졸업이 학력의 전부였어요…그때는 ‘초등학교 졸업'이라는 부모님의 학력이 너무 창피했었는데, 지금은 초등학교 졸업의 학력을 창피하게 생각했던 것이 너무 부끄러워요.

“I had to fill out a blank concerning my parents’ education levels in the student's family's background check paper handed by the school. I hesitated quite a while before I wrote down my mom ‘graduated middle school’ and my dad ‘dropped high school', of course, I did this without telling them. In fact, they only had the elementary school education…Back then, I was so ashamed of my parent's low educational background. But now I came to feel much more ashamed of my shameful feeling toward of my parent's elementary school education.

A survey done by Saramin, one of the biggest job search agency in Korea, shows people's stress from the society's preferential treatments to people with good educational background. In a survey done to 2,152 people in their twenties and thirties, about 20 percent of the respondents have answered ‘yes’ to a question ‘Have you ever thought of forging your educational background for employment or success?’.

학력을 위조하고 싶은 생각이 들 때로는 33.5%가 ‘입사지원서를 작성할 때’를 1위로 꼽았고, ‘실력보다 학벌만 높은 사람이 취업이나 승진할 때’(33%)가 근소한 차이로 뒤를 이었다. 이밖에 ‘서류전형에서 떨어졌을 때’(17.6%), ‘학력을 위조한 후 성공한 이야기를 들었을 때’(6%)…실제로 구직활동을 하면서 학력이나 학벌 때문에 차별을 받은 경험을 묻는 질문에는 66.5%가 ‘있다’라고 응답해 10명 중 7명이 학벌로 인한 차별 경험이 있는 것으로 조사되었다.

To a question ‘In which occasions you came to think of forging your educational background?’, 33.5 percent of respondents have answered as ‘when I write down the employment application form’ and 33 percent answered as ‘when people with higher degrees gets the job or promoted over people with ability’. Other reasons were ‘when I couldn’t get pass the paper screening process’ (17.6 percent) ‘when I listen to a success story made possible by a degree forgery’ (6 percent) (and etc)…To a question ‘have you actually been treated unfairly because of your educational background while searching for a job?’, 66.5 percent, almost 7 out of ten people have answered as ‘yes’.

Korea’s education system is notorious for locking students up in a classroom till near mid night and forcing them to private institutes afterwards. It is no wonder people living under this juggernaut came to daydream about faking degrees or see imaginative forgery cases from others, subconsciously seeking to get a slice of compensation for their money, energy and youth spent on intense education.

  • Amonymus

    He wrote a song with a message. That’s good for him . . . His songs are just entertaining but can be called as an eye opener too because he is the voice of the whole country. Keep it up Epik High And Tablo!!!

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