Education in South Korea

Education in South Korea

Infobox Education
country name = South Korea

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Education in South Korea is seen as the most important key to success and competition is consequently very heated and fierce. [ [ Dreams of a Korean Summer: School and a New Cell - New York Times ] ] [ [ For English Studies, Koreans Say Goodbye to Dad - ] ] A centralized administration oversees the process for the education of children from kindergarten to the third and final year of high school. Mathematics, science, Korean, social studies, and English are generally considered to be the most important subjects. Sometimes physical education is not considered important as it is not regarded to be education and therefore many schools lack high-quality gymnasiums and varsity athletics. South Korea was the first country in the world to provide high-speed internet access from every primary, junior, and high school. [ [ In a Wired South Korea, Robots Will Feel Right at Home - New York Times ] ]

The school year is divided into two semesters. The first begins in the beginning of March and ends in mid-July; the second begins in late August and ends in mid-February. They have summer vacation from mid-July to late August, and winter vacation from late-December to early February, and also take a short vacation from mid-February to end of that month. The schedules are not rigidly standardized, however, and can vary from school to school.

Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development

The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development is responsible for South Korean education. It was renamed by the former Ministry of education, who enhanced its function in 2001 because the administration of Kim Dae-jung considered education and human resources development as a matter of the highest priority. As a result of the reform, it began to cover the whole field of human resource development and the minister of education was appointed to the Vice Prime Minister.

Like other ministers, the Minister of Education and Human Resources Development is appointed by the president. They are mainly chosen from candidates who have an academic background and often resign in a fairly short term (around one year).


Kindergarten in Korea is not a publicly administered program. Parents send their children to private schools: most are taught in Korean, many of those have an English class, and some kindergartens are taught almost entirely in English.

Kindergarten in South Korea is composed of children from ages three to five. Most children do not attend "preschool" but are lumped together in a kindergarten class with other children who may be within a three years age difference. When the child reaches about six years of age he/she is systematically moved on to the first year of elementary school. From kindergarten to high school, matriculating through the grade levels is not determined on knowledge, grades or passing of any tests, but is based purely upon the student's age. Enrollment in kindergartens or preschools expanded impressively during the 1980s. In 1980 there were 66,433 children attending 901 kindergartens or preschools. By 1987 there were 397,020 children in 7,792 institutions. The number of kindergarten and preschool teachers rose from 3,339 to 11,920 during the same period. The overwhelming majority of these teachers--approximately 92 percent--were women. This growth was attributable to several factors: Ministry of Education encouragement of preschool education, the greater number of women entering the work force, growth in the number of nuclear families where a grandparent was often unavailable to take care of children, and the feeling that kindergarten might give children an "edge" in later educational competition. Kindergartens often paid homage to the expectations of parents with impressive graduation ceremonies, complete with diplomas and gowns.

Elementary School

Elementary school consists of grades one to six(age 8 to age 13 in Korean years - 6 to 12 in western years). Students learn subjects including, but not limited to, Korean, mathematics, science, social studies, language arts, fine arts, and music. Usually, the class teacher covers most of the subjects; however, there are some specialized teachers in professions such as physical education and foreign languages, including English. About 20 years ago, English used to be taught first in middle school, but nowadays, students begin learning English in the third year of elementary school.
Korean language has a very different grammatical structure from English, and English education in Korea is more or less inefficient, so this is a frequent source of concern to parents. Many choose to send their children to additional private educational institutions called "hagwon" (학원). More schools in the country are recruiting native English speakers to facilitate learning English.

Alongside public elementary schools there are a number of private elementary schools in Korea, usually distinguishable by the uniforms their students wear (public elementary school students do not wear uniforms apart from PE kit). These schools follow a similar curriculum as public elementary schools, but often offer superior facilities, a higher teacher-to-student ratio, and extra programmes. They also usually offer a higher standard of learning. Though highly desirable, they are prohibitively expensive for many Korean parents.

Elementary schools are called "chodeung-hakgyo" (Hangul:초등학교 Hanja:初等學校,), meaning "elementary school". The South Korean government changed its name to the current form from "gukmin hakgyo" (Hangul:국민학교 Hanja:國民學校) meaning "citizens' school" in 1996. This was done as a gesture of restoring national pride. The word, abbreviated from 황국신민의 학교 (皇國臣民의 學校), means "school for the subjects of the imperial state" carried over from Japanese colonial rule.

econdary education

In 1987 there were approximately 4,895,354 students enrolled in middle schools and high schools, with approximately 150,873 teachers. About 69 percent of these teachers were male. The secondary-school enrollment figure also reflected changing population trends--there were 3,959,975 students in secondary schools in 1979. Given the importance of entry into higher education, the majority of students attended general or academic high schools in 1987: 1,397,359 students, or 60 percent of the total, attended general or academic high schools, as compared with 840,265 students in vocational secondary schools. Vocational schools specialized in a number of fields: primarily agriculture, fishery, commerce, trades, merchant marine, engineering, and the arts.Fact|date=February 2008

Competitive entrance examinations at the middle-school level were abolished in 1968. Although as of the late 1980s, students still had to pass noncompetitive qualifying examinations, they were assigned to secondary institutions by lottery, or else by location within the boundary of the school district. Secondary schools, formerly ranked according to the quality of their students, have been equalized, with a portion of good, mediocre, and poor students being assigned to each one. The reform, however, did not equalize secondary schools completely. In Seoul, students who performed well in qualifying examinations were allowed to attend better quality schools in a "common" district, while other students attended schools in one of five geographical districts. The reforms applied equally to public and private schools whose enrollments were strictly controlled by the Ministry of Education.

Unlike United States, where the grade of a student is commonly incremented until 12th grade as the student progresses through primary and secondary education system, in South Korea, the grade of a student is reset as the student progresses through elementary, middle and high school. To differentiate the grades between students, one would often state the grade based on the level of education he/she is in. For example, a student in a first year of middle school (equivalent to 7th grade in the United States) would be referred to as "First grade in Middle School (중학교 1학년)".

Middle schools are called 중학교 in Korean (中學校, "jung hakgyo"), which literally means "middle school". High schools are called 고등학교 in Korean (高等學校, "godeung hakgyo"), literally meaning "high-level school."

Middle School

Middle schools in South Korea consist of three grades. Most students enter at age 12 and finish at age 15 (western years). These three grades correspond roughly to grades 7-9 in the North American system and 2nd to 4th form in the British system.

Middle school in South Korea marks a considerable shift from elementary school, with students expected to take studies and school much more seriously. At most middle schools regulation uniforms and haircuts are enforced fairly strictly, and some aspects of students' lives are highly controlled. Like in elementary school, students spend most of the day in the same homeroom classroom with the same classmates; however, students have different teachers for each subject. Teachers move around from classroom to classroom, and few teachers apart from those who teach special subjects have their own rooms to which students come. Homeroom teachers (담임선생님 "dam im seonsangnim") play a very important role in students' lives, and have considerably more authority over and responsibility for their students' than their American counterparts.

Most middle school students take six lessons a day, and in addition to this usually have an early morning block that precedes regular lessons and a seventh lesson specialising in an extra subject to finish the day. Unlike with high school, middle school curricula do not vary much from school to school. Maths, English, Korean, and science form the core subjects, with students also receiving instruction in art, PE, history, "Hanja" (Chinese characters), ethics, home economics, and computers. What subjects students study and in what amount may vary from year to year. All regular lessons are 45 minutes long. Before school, students have an extra block, 30-or-more minutes long, that may be used for self-study, watching Educational Broadcast System (EBS) broadcasts, or for personal or class administration. As of 2008, students attend school from Monday to Friday, and have a half-day every 1st, 3rd, and 5th (calendar permitting) Saturday of the month. Saturday lessons usually include Club Activity (CA) lessons, where students may participate in extra-curricular activities.

In the late 1960s the government abolished entrance examinations for middle school students, replacing it with a system whereby elementary school students within the same district are selected for middle schools by a lottery system. This has the effect of equalising the quality of students from school to school, though schools in areas where students come from more privileged backgrounds still tend to outperform schools in poorer areas. Until recently most middle schools have been same-sex, though in the past decade most new middle schools have been mixed, and some previously same-sex schools have converted to mixed as well.

As with elementary schools, students pass from grade to grade regardless of knowledge or academic achievement, the result being that classes often have students of vastly differing abilities learning the same subject material together. In the final year of middle school examination scores become very important for the top students hoping to gain entrance into the top high schools, and for those in the middle hoping to get into an academic rather a technical or vocation high school. Otherwise, examinations and marks only matter in so far as pleasing parents and teachers (or avoiding their wrath). There are some standardised examinations for certain subjects, and teachers of academic subjects are expected to follow approved textbooks, but generally middle school teachers have more flexibility over curricula and methods than teachers at high school.

Many middle school students also attend after-school academies, known as "hagwon", and some receive extra instruction from private tutors. The core subjects, especially the cumulative subjects of English and maths, receive the most stress. Some "hagwon" specialise in just one subject, and others offer all core subjects, constituting a second round of schooling every day for their pupils. Indeed, some parents place more stress on their children's "hagwon" studies than their public school studies. Additionally, many students attend academies for things such as martial arts or music. The result of all this is that many middle school students, like their high school counterparts, return from a day of schooling well after dark or even around midnight.

High school

High schools in South Korea teach students from first grade (age 17) to third grade (age 19), and students commonly graduate at age 19. High schools in Korea can be divided into specialty tracks that accord with a student's interest and career path. For example, there are science (Science high school), foreign language and art specialty high schools to which students can attend with prior entrance examinations, which are generally highly competitive. Other type of high schools include public high schools and private high schools, both with or without entrance examinations. These high schools do not report to specialize in a field, but are more focused on sending their students to college. For students who do not wish a college education, vocational schools specializing in fields such as technology, agriculture or finance are available, in which the students are employeed right after graduation. On noting the schedule of many high school students, it is not abnormal for them to arrive home from school at midnight, after intensive "self-study" sessions supported by the school. The curriculum is often noted as rigorous, with as many as 11 or so subjects and some students choose to attend private academies called 학원 (學院, pronounced hagwons) to boost their academic performance. Core subjects include Korean, English and Math, with adequate emphasis on social and physical science subjects. It is critical to note that the type and level of subjects may differ from school to school, depending on the degree of selectivity and specialization of the school.

High school is not strictly mandatory, unlike middle school education in Korea. However, according to a 2005 study of OECD member countries, some 97% of South Korea's young adults do complete high school. This was the highest percentage recorded in any country. []

Post-secondary education

"Main articles: List of colleges and universities in South Korea, "

Most students enrolled in high school apply to colleges at the end of the year. Students have options of participating in either 수시 (pronounced: "su-shi", early decision plans for college) or 정시(pronounced: "jeong-shi", regular admissions). Students will have to take the College Scholastic Ability Test (colloquially known as 수능 "Su-neung"). The curriculum of most schools is structured around the content of the entrance examination. Like the American SAT Reasoning test, the Korean College Scholastic Ability Test has three main sections: Korean Language/Reading, Math and English. Various "elective" subjects in the social and physical sciences are also available for examination. However, unlike the American SAT, this test can only be taken once a year and requires intensive studying, some starting preparation as early as kindergarten. Students who perform below their expectations on the test and choose to defer college entrance and study for one year to score higher are called jaesuseng.

In the late 1980s, the university a South Korean high school graduate attended was perhaps the single most important factor in determining his or her life chances. Thus, entrance into a prestigious institution was the focus of intense energy, dedication, and self-sacrifice. Prestigious institutions includes major national institutions such as Seoul National University,Pusan National University, Kyungpook National University, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, and a handful of private institutions such as Pohang University of Science and Technology, Korea University, Yonsei University, Sogang University, Sungkyunkwan University, Hanyang University and Ewha Womans University.

Because college entrance depends upon ranking high in objectively graded examinations, high school students face an "examination hell", a harsh regiment of endless cramming and rote memorization of facts that is incomparably severe. Unlike the Confucian civil service examinations of the Choson Dynasty, their modern reincarnation is a matter of importance not for an elite, but for the substantial portion of the population with middle-class aspirations. In the late 1980s, over one-third of college-age men and women (35.2 percent in 1989) succeeded in entering and attending institutions of higher education; those who failed faced dramatically reduced prospects for social and economic advancement.

The number of students in higher education had risen from 100,000 in 1960 to 1.3 million in 1987, and the proportion of college-age students in higher-education institutions was second only to the United States. The institutions of higher education included regular four-year colleges and universities, two-year junior vocational colleges, four-year teachers' colleges, and graduate schools. The main drawback was that college graduates wanted careers that would bring them positions of leadership in society, but there simply were not enough positions to accommodate all graduates each year and many graduates were forced to accept lesser positions. Ambitious women especially were frustrated by traditional barriers of sex discrimination as well as the lack of positions.

Because tests given in high school (generally once every two or four weeks) were almost as important in determining college entrance as the final entrance examinations, students had no opportunity to relax from the study routine. According to one contemporary account, a student had to memorize 60 to 100 pages of facts to do well on these periodic tests. It's not uncommon to see students walking home from their studies at very late hours (still dressed in their high school uniforms). Family and social life generally were sacrificed to the supreme end of getting into the best university possible.

Examinations are very serious times of the year and they change the whole pattern of society. In the days leading up to exams, newspapers post articles asking girls not to wear perfume or high heeled shoes to the examinations as these are seen to be distracting. Businesses often start at 10 am to accommodate parents who have helped their children study late into the night and on the evenings before exams recreational facilities, such as tennis clubs, close early to facilitate study for these exams.

The costs of the "examination hell" have been evident not only in a grim and joyless adolescence for many, if not most, young South Koreans, but also in the number of suicides caused by the constant pressure of tests.Fact|date=June 2008 Often suicides have been top achievers who despaired after experiencing a slump in test performance.Fact|date=June 2008 Also, the multiple choice format of periodic high school tests and university entrance examinations has left students little opportunity to develop their creative talents.Fact|date=June 2008 A "facts only" orientation has promoted a cramped and unspontaneous view of the world that has tended to spill over into other areas of life than academic work.Fact|date=June 2008

The prospects for basic change in the system--a de-emphasis on tests--were unlikely in the late 1980s. The great virtue of facts-based testing is its objectivity. Though harsh, the system is believed to be fair and impartial. The use of nonobjective criteria such as essays, personal recommendations, and the recognition of success in extracurricular activities or personal recommendations from teachers and others could open up all sorts of opportunities for corruption. In a society where social connections are extremely important, connections rather than merit might determine entry into a good university. Students who survive the numbing regimen of examinations under the modern system are at least universally acknowledged to have deserved their educational success. Top graduates who have assumed positions of responsibility in government and business have lent, through their talents, legitimacy to the whole system.

Unlike other systems where individual merit and achievements are a determinative factor in one's prospects for success, in South Korea, the main determinative factor for success is what university the person went to. A person's educational pedigree and credentials are far more important than other factors such as skills and personality. Hence, a Korean student who gets into a top notch university is likely set for life and is guaranteed a lifetime of fortunes and financial security. Meanwhile, those Korean students who are unable to get into a good university face few, even gruesome, options. They can either 1.) commit suicide, 2.) become unemployed and homeless, 3.) join the military, or 4.) settle for taking low-paying, menial jobs for survival. However, there are a few Koreans who opt to take the vocational route and become successful. The pressures to succeed academically in South Korea (where the university one attends is often determinative of one's success) contributes to the country's high depression and suicide rates. South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the OECD. Of Korean teenager deaths, suicide is the second most common cause, behind automobile collisions. [cite news
title = Suicide Is 2nd Most Cause of S. Korean Teenage Deaths
url =
publisher = The Korea Times
date = 2008-07-20
accessdate = 2008-07-21

English education

English is taught as a required subject from the third year of elementary school up to high school, including most universities,with the goal of performing well on the TOEIC and TOEFL, which are tests of reading, listening and grammar-based English. For students who achieve high scores, there is also a speaking evaluation.

Because of large class sizes and other factors in public schools, many parents pay to send their children to private English-language schools in the afternoon or evening. Usually different private English-language schools specialize in teaching elementary school students or in middle and high school students. The most ambitious parents send their children to kindergartens that utilize English exclusively in the classroom. Many children also live abroad for anywhere from a few months to several years to learn English. []

Due to recent curriculum changes, the education system in Korea is now placing a greater emphasis on English verbal abilities rather than grammatical skills. Universities require all first year students to take an English conversation class in their first year and some universities require students to take conversational English classes through out the entirety of their university life.Fact|date=April 2008 According to a 2003 survey conducted by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, despite spending among the most money on English-language education Korea ranks among the poorest 12 Asian countries in English ability. []


Like other East Asian countries with a Confucian heritage, South Korea has had a long history of providing formal education. Although there was no state-supported system of primary education, the central government established a system of secondary schools in Seoul and the provinces during the Choson Dynasty. State schools suffered a decline in quality, however, and came to be supplanted in importance by the sowon,te academies that were the centers of a neo-Confucian revival in the sixteenth century. Students at both private and state-supported secondary schools were exempt from military service and had much the same social prestige as university students enjoy today in South Korea. Like modern students, they were frequently involved in politics. Higher education was provided by the Confucian national university in the capital, the Sungkyunkwan. Its enrollment was limited to 200 students who had passed the lower civil service examinations and were preparing for the higher examinations.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, modern private schools were established both by Koreans and by foreign Christian missionaries. The latter were particularly important because they promoted the education of women and the diffusion of Western social and political ideas. Japanese educational policy after 1910 was designed to turn Koreans into obedient colonial subjects and to teach them limited technical skills. A state university modeled on Tokyo Imperial University was established in Seoul in 1923, but the number of Koreans allowed to study there never exceeded 40 percent of its enrollment; 60 percent of its students were Japanese expatriates.

When United States military forces occupied the southern half of the Korean Peninsula in 1945, they established a school system based on the American model: six years of primary school, six years of secondary school (divided into junior and senior levels), and four years of higher education. Other occupation period reforms included coeducation at all levels, popularly elected school boards in local areas, and compulsory education up to the ninth grade. The government of Syngman Rhee reversed many of these reforms after 1948, when only primary schools remained in most cases coeducational and, because of a lack of resources, education was compulsory only up to the sixth grade. The school system in 1990, however, reflects that which was established under the United States occupation.

During the years when Rhee and Park Chung Hee were in power, the control of education was gradually taken out of the hands of local school boards and concentrated in a centralized Ministry of Education. In the late 1980s, the ministry was responsible for administration of schools, allocation of resources, setting of enrollment quotas, certification of schools and teachers, curriculum development (including the issuance of textbook guidelines), and other basic policy decisions. Provincial and special city boards of education still existed. Although each board was composed of seven members who were supposed to be selected by popularly elected legislative bodies, this arrangement ceased to function after 1973. Subsequently, school board members were approved by the minister of education.

Most observers agree that South Korea's spectacular progress in modernization and economic growth since the Korean War is largely attributable to the willingness of individuals to invest a large amount of resources in education: the improvement of "human capital." The traditional esteem for the educated man, originally confined to the Confucian scholar as cultured generalists, now extend to scientists, technicians, and others working with specialized knowledge. Highly educated technocrats and economic planners could claim much of the credit for their country's economic successes since the 1960s. Scientific professions were generally regarded as the most prestigious by South Koreans in the 1980s.

Statistics demonstrate the success of South Korea's national education programs. In 1945 the adult literacy rate was estimated at 22 percent; by 1970 adult literacy was 87.6 percent, and by the late 1980s various sources estimated it at around 93 percent. South Korean students have performed exceedingly well in international competitions in mathematics and science. Although only primary school (grades one through six) was compulsory, percentages of age-groups of children and young people enrolled in primary, secondary, and tertiary level schools were equivalent to those found in industrialized countries, including Japan. Approximately 4.8 million students in the eligible age-group were attending primary school in 1985. The percentage of students going on to optional middle school the same year was more than 99 percent. Approximately 34 percent, one of the world's highest rates of secondary-school graduates attended institutions of higher education in 1987, a rate similar to Japan's (about 30 percent) and exceeding Britain's (20 percent).

Government expenditure on education has been generous. In 1975, it was 220 billion won, the equivalent of 2.2 percent of the gross national product, or 13.9 percent of total government expenditure. By 1986, education expenditure had reached 3.76 trillion won, or 4.5 percent of the GNP, and 27.3 percent of government budget allocations.

tudent activism

Student activism has a long and honorable history in Korea. Students in Choson Dynasty secondary schools often became involved in the intense factional struggles of the scholarofficial class. Students played a major role in Korea's independence movement, particularly the March 1, 1919, countrywide demonstrations that were harshly suppressed by the Japanese military police. Students protested against the Rhee and Park regimes during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Observers noted, however, that while student activists in the past generally embraced liberal and democratic values, the new generation of militants in the 1980s were far more radical. Most participants have adopted some version of the minjung ideology that was heavily influenced by Marxism, Western dependency theory, and Christian "liberation theology", but was also animated by strong feelings of popular nationalism and xenophobia.

The most militant university students, perhaps about 5 percent of the total enrollment at Seoul National University and comparable figures at other institutions in the capital during the late 1980s, were organized into small circles or cells rarely containing more than fifty members. Police estimated that there were seventy-two such organizations of varying orientation.

Reforms in the 1980s

Following the assumption of power by General Chun Doo Hwan in 1980, the Ministry of Education implemented a number of reforms designed to make the system more fair and to increase higher education opportunities for the population at large. In a very popular move, the ministry dramatically increased enrollment at large. The number of high school graduates accepted into colleges and universities was increased from almost 403,000 students in 1980 to more than 1.4 million in 1989. This reform decreased, temporarily, the acceptance ratio from one college place for every four applicants in 1980 to one for every three applicants in 1981. In 1980 the number of students attending all kinds of higher educational institutions was almost 600,000; that number grew almost 100 percent to 1,061,403 students by 1983. By 1987 there were 1,340,381 students attending higher educational institutions. By 1987 junior colleges had an enrollment of almost 260,000 students; colleges and universities had an enrollment of almost 990,000 students; other higher education institutions enrolled the balance.

A second reform was the prohibition of private, after-school tutoring. Formerly, private tutors could charge exorbitant rates if they had a good "track record" of getting students into the right schools through intensive coaching, especially in English and in mathematics. This situation gave wealthy families an unfair advantage in the competition. Under the new rules, students receiving tutoring could be suspended from school and their tutors dismissed from their jobs. There was ample evidence in the mid-1980s, however, that the law had simply driven the private tutoring system underground and made the fees more expensive. Some underpaid teachers and cash-starved students at prestigious institutions were willing to run the risk of punishment in order to earn as much as W300,000 to W500,000 a month. Students and their parents took the risk of being caught, believing that coaching in weak subject areas could give students the edge needed to get into a better university. By the late 1980s, however, the tutorial system seemed largely to have disappeared.

A third reform was much less popular. The ministry established a graduation quota system, in which increased freshman enrollments were counterbalanced by the requirement that each four-year college or university fail the lowest 30 percent of its students; junior colleges were required to fail the lowest 15 percent. These quotas were required no matter how well the lowest 30 or 15 percent of the students did in terms of objective standards. Ostensibly designed to ensure the quality of the increased number of college graduates, the system also served, for a while to discourage students from devoting their time to political movements. Resentment of the quotas was widespread and family counterpressures intense. The government abolished the quotas in 1984.

Social emphasis on education was not, however, without its problems, as it tended to accentuate class differences. In the late 1980s, possession of a college degree was considered necessary for entering the middle class; there were no alternative pathways of social advancement, with the possible exception of a military career, outside higher education. People without a college education, including skilled workers with vocational school backgrounds, often were treated as second-class citizens by their white-collar, college-educated managers, despite the importance of their skills for economic development. Intense competition for places at the most prestigious universities--the sole gateway into elite circles--promoted, like the old Confucian system, a sterile emphasis on rote memorization in order to pass secondary school and college entrance examinations. Particularly after a dramatic expansion of college enrollments in the early 1980s, South Korea faced the problem of what to do about a large number of young people kept in school for a long time, usually at great sacrifice to themselves and their families, and then faced with limited job opportunities because their skills were not marketable.

Teachers union

Although primary- and secondary-school teachers traditionally enjoyed high status, they often were overworked and underpaid during the late 1980s. Salaries were less than those for many other white-collar professions and even some blue-collar jobs. High school teachers, particularly those in the cities, however, received sizable gifts from parents seeking attention for their children, but teaching hours were long and classes crowded (the average class contained around fifty to sixty students).

In May 1989, teachers established an independent union, the Korean Teachers Union (KTU - JeonGyoJo). Their aims included improving working conditions and reforming a school system that they regarded as overly controlled by the Ministry of Education. Although the government promised large increases in allocations for teachers' salaries and facilities, it refused to give the union legal status. Because teachers were civil servants, the government claimed they did not have the right to strike and, even if they did have the right to strike, unionization would undermine the status of teachers as "role models" for young Koreans. The government also accused the union of spreading subversive, leftist propaganda that was sympathetic to the communist regime in North Korea.

According to a report in the Asian Wall Street Journal, the union claimed support from 82 percent of all teachers. The controversy was viewed as representing a major crisis for South Korean education because a large number of teachers (1,500 by November 1989) had been dismissed, violence among union supporters, opponents, and police had occurred at several locations, and class disruptions had caused anxieties for families of students preparing for the college entrance examinations. The union's challenge to the Ministry of Education's control of the system and the charges of subversion had made compromise seem a very remote possibility at the start of 1990.


The Korean education system, despite its successes in achieving high test scores, has been criticized both for its treatment of students and for the content of the education they receive.

Treatment of students

Because of the importance of the university entrance examination in determining one's career prospects, students are under intense pressure to study long hours. The high school years, especially, are a time when students have little chance to do much except study. The Korean saying "Sleep five hours and fail, sleep four hours and pass" is taken seriously; for three years students typically begin school at 6 a.m. and finish at midnight; some students finish at 10 p.m. and go to hagwons until midnight or 1 a.m. Students can forgo the 10 p.m. to midnight classes and self-study sessions but only with permission from both their parents and their homeroom teacher, and few bother to ask. The schedule lasts seven days a week and is rigorous even during periods of nominal vacation. It is not uncommon during exam periods to see students sleeping during class from exhaustion. Students are encouraged to see themselves as being in fierce competition with their friends and peers.

In 2003 it was reported that roughly 75% of elementary schools and 80% of middle and high schools employ corporal punishment.. [] ; a 1999 poll found that almost 75% of parents support it [] .

In 2005 students gathered in Seoul for a candlelight vigil in memory of friends who had committed suicide and to protest for shorter school hours and an end to the haircut policy. A significant number of them wore masks and asked reporters not to take photographs out of fear of being punished by their teachers; some schools warned their students not to attend. []

A pair of incidents in the summer of 2006 prompted renewed calls for a ban on corporal punishment. [] In June, a [ video clip] , taken by a parent visiting the school, was released on the popular Korean site Media Daum. In August 2006, it was revealed that a teacher in Daegu had hit a student 200 times for being five minutes late to class, sending him to the hospital. National Assembly Representative Choi Soon-young of the Democratic Labor Party introduced a bill which would ban all corporal punishment, with no exceptions; the Korean Federation of Teachers Associations is officially opposed to it and claims the public is as well. []

Content of curricula

School curricula have been criticized for indoctrinating students politically and for emphasizing rote memorization over critical thinking.

The Busan branch of the union was criticized for a video it produced during the 2005 APEC meetings; the video parodied world leaders, including American President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who were gathered for the summit, and advocated an anti-corporate-globalization point of view.

ee also

*List of Korea-related topics
*Education in North Korea
*College Scholastic Ability Test
*Korean Teachers & Education Workers' Union


External links

* [ Gain or Pain for Korean Students?]
* [ Students Rally to Protest College Admission System]
* [ Cutthroat Classes]
* [ Education/Literacy in Korea]
* [ "In South Korea, students push back"] , The "International Herald Tribune", May 9, 2005.

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  • Outline of South Korea — …   Wikipedia

  • Culture of South Korea — The contemporary culture of South Korea developed from the traditional culture of Korea, and on its own path away from North Korean culture since the division of Korea in 1948. The industrialization and urbanization of South Korea, especially… …   Wikipedia

  • Cabinet of South Korea — South Korea This article is part of the series: Politics and government of South Korea Government …   Wikipedia

  • Sport in South Korea — South Korea has traditional sports of its own, but sports imported from the West are predominant. Popular sports include hiking, football, baseball, basketball, swimming, athletics, and boxing.Traditional sportsThere are various forms of folk… …   Wikipedia

  • Demographics of South Korea — This article is about the demographic features of the population of South Korea, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.… …   Wikipedia

  • History of South Korea — For the history of Korea before its division, see History of Korea. History of Korea This article is part of a series …   Wikipedia

  • Economy of South Korea — The economy of South Korea is the third largest in Asia and the 13th largest in the world by GDP (PPP) as of 2007. In the aftermath of the Korean War, South Korea grew from a poor developing country to a wealthy developed country. From the mid to …   Wikipedia

  • Government of South Korea — The Government of South Korea is divided into three branches: executive, judicial, and legislative. The executive and judicial branches operate primarily at the national level, although various ministries in the executive branch also carry out… …   Wikipedia