The education system of South Korea

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Have you ever heard about the economic leap South Korea had in a short period of time? This great historical event is mostly related to the educational system they developed.

Translation by Laura Fino and Sara Varon

The education system of South Korea is considered one of the best in the world, standing out in the field of science.

South Korea’s government has a strong focus on its education system, as it accounts for a large part of its country’s economy. However, the pressure on students to meet expectations and reach higher levels of education is complicated and suffocating. As a result, this country is also ranked as one of the countries with the highest suicide rate among young people.

Education not only involves acquiring knowledge but also influencing the social and economic image, bearing in mind the future of the country. In addition, it has an important role in the family pride that arises when studying at a prestigious university, the famous SKY Universities, which will be mentioned later. Thus, education has become indispensable for young people in South Korea to achieve a status in society. How does the education system of South Korea work then?

Preschool Education

This educational level begins from 3 years to 5 or 6 years of age and is considered optional. Different places offer this level, some are free on behalf of the government and others are paid, these last ones being highly demanded. Preschool focuses on developing children’s basic abilities, such as reading, writing, mathematical thinking, music, and physical activity. It is also the key level for implementing the learning of a second language, specifically English, which is considered vital for the development of their future.

50% of children in South Korea attend preschool, most of them in private institutions.

Photo by Naomi Shi

Primary school

Also known as Chodeung Haggyo (초등학교). It lasts approximately 6 years and is a mandatory level, starting from 5 or 6 years to 11 or 12 years of age. The vast majority of these schools are free, although there are still fee-paying ones. However, for some families, their costs are very high, so there is not a great demand. For admission, the authorities send a letter to the child’s parents, which contains information about the school to which the child must attend. Its main subjects are writing, reading, English, mathematics, science, ethics, sports, music, drawing and social sciences. At this stage, if a student is either gifted or proficient, he or she is allowed to be promoted to the next grade.

Photo by Max Fischer

Middle school

Known as Jung Haggyo (중학교), this level is free and mandatory. It lasts for 3 years and normally starts from the age of 11 or 12 until the age of 14 or 15. In addition, no exam is required for admission. In terms of subjects, there is a focus on ethics, Korean, mathematics, social studies, science, sports, music, art, technical education, home economics, and English. The pressure at this level begins to increase because of the competitiveness to obtain good grades, since admission to a good high school is based on the student’s grade point average.

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

High school

Godeung Haggyo (고등학교) or high school lasts for 3 years. At this level, attendance is no longer ‘mandatory’, but the vast majority of students complete it. Although it is no longer free, there are grants for low-income families. It should be noted that students have other options, such as schools with specializations that often require an exam for entry.

At this level, students feel highly pressured, as they must prepare to meet the necessary requirements to enter a prestigious university. For this reason, it is common for them to have extra classes to ensure a good score on the entrance exams.

Photo by Stephanie Hau on Unsplash

Higher education

Most university degrees last 4 years. As around the world, this is not a compulsory or free educational level. In South Korea, university entrance is considered one of the most difficult processes due to the Suneung (수능) national exam. This exam defines much of a student’s future, since, as mentioned before, education in Korean culture is highly valued. In effect, the university an individual attends will automatically represent a large part of their identity in society. For this reason, the vast majority of students aspire to continue their higher education at a SKY university.

SKY universities comprise the three most prestigious universities in South Korea located in Seoul (서울):

  1.     Seoul National University (서울대학교)
  2.     Korea University (고려대학교)
  3.     Yonsei University (연세대학교)

This is not to say that these are the only quality universities; however, they are the best known, and the ones that over the years have been gaining worldwide prestige. Going to college seems like an achievement, but as it’s all about competition, staying in and graduating is quite a challenge.

Written by: Karla Tapia

Edited by: Adamaris Llampara


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