School and Education in South Korea

Based on international knowledge tests, South Korea is often considered one of the best educational systems in the world. Private tuition is common alongside the school, and competition for entry into the most prestigious universities is very fierce. Education is compulsory for children and adolescents between 6 and 15 years.

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Organization of education in South Korea

The Ministry of Education has the overall national responsibility for all education. To ensure regional and local self-government, there are also 16 regional and 182 county offices responsible for preparing and implementing their own educational regulations. In addition, these units directly supervise primary and secondary schools.

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According to the OECD, South Korea spends about 7.6 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on education, while the average for all OECD countries is 6.3 percent (2010). This is the third highest proportion of education spent among all OECD countries.

In 2009, 37 percent of the country’s 15-year-olds attended private schools. Private schools are mainly financed through school fees, as well as donations and gifts from private donors and organizations.

South Korea Country Flag

South Korea flag source:

Basic education

Children start school the year they turn six. Both primary and secondary school are free and compulsory. The primary school lasts for six years while the secondary school lasts for three years. Ethics, Korean, math, science, social sciences, physical education, music and design are core topics in primary school. However, local authorities can also introduce additional subjects.

In secondary school, the teaching of mathematics, English, Korean, social sciences and natural sciences is differentiated. In ethics, physical education, music and design, all students follow the same type of teaching. In addition, students in secondary school must take several electives, such as subjects in economics, technology, information technology, language and the environment.

Together with Singapore, Taiwan and Japan, South Korea is one of the countries that scored the best in the PISA survey of 2012. The country’s 15-year-olds were ranked number five in both math and literacy.

Secondary education

The high school lasts for three years. Students can choose between vocational or study-specializing educational programs. Those who choose study specialization receive instruction in the same core subjects as in secondary school, but the students also choose a specialization in social studies or science.

According to the OECD, 98 percent of the population in the 30-34 age group have completed upper secondary education. This is the highest proportion of all OECD countries, where the average age group is 82 percent.

Higher education

There are over 370 institutions of higher education. Seoul National University is considered one of the best universities in the world.

According to the OECD, 64 percent of the population in the age group 30-34 years have higher education. This is the highest proportion among all OECD countries, with the average age group being 39 percent.