A junior in high school living in South Korea, Bona Kim says that caffeine is often her best friend.
“School is stressful and I’m often tired,” said Kim, who has a seven hour school day that begins around 8 A.M. “I usually get an iced americano from our school’s cafe every day to keep myself awake. Otherwise, I have trouble making it through the long days of school and homework.”
With the overwhelming workload and academic pressure deeply ingrained in the Korean educational system, it is almost natural for some high school students to depend on a cup of coffee to keep themselves awake enough to succeed at school.
Considering the popularity and significance of vending machine coffee on campuses, it was especially shocking for some students and teachers when the South Korean government issued a caffeine ban in all schools this summer.
According to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, all vending machines and any other cafes at both primary and secondary schools will stop their sale of coffee products by Sept. 14. A ministry official told the Korea Times that “the revision aims to create healthy eating habits among children and teenagers.”
South Korea’s coffee consumption is among the highest of Asian countries. Since 1990, the nation’s coffee consumption has doubled, largely due to the introduction of large coffee franchises like Starbucks. The ministry reported that coffee can have particularly negative health effects on teenagers, such as dizziness or sleep disorders.
While highly caffeinated drinks such as energy drinks or even coffee milks are already banned at schools, many are still sold in vending machines for teachers. Yet under the new law, both students and adults (teachers) will be unable to purchase caffeinated products on campus. Some have questioned whether the government should be banning coffee from teachers as well, who are adults and thus should be more in control of their own dietary concerns.
Some have even questioned the banning of coffee from students as well. South Korea’s reliance on coffee may not be the problem, some say – rather, it may simply be a manifestation of the true issue at hand, an excessively stressful and competitive atmosphere.
“I think the caffeine ban is missing the point,” said Joshua Lim, another high school student living in Seoul. “Instead of outright banning coffee, the government should maybe work to prevent a reliance on caffeine by lessening the pressure of our educational systems. Students won’t stop relying on coffee, whether they buy it on or off campus, until the root of the problem is addressed.”
E Ju Ro, Grade 11
Seoul International School