Education in Korea

Koreans have traditionally placed great importance on education as a means for self-fulfillment as well as for social advancement. Today, Korea boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. It is a well- recognized fact that Korea’s well-educated people have been the primary source of the rapid economic growth that the nation has achieved during the past six decades. The Ministry of Education (MOE) is the government body responsible for the formulation and implementation of educational policies. The government provides guidance on basic policy matters as well as financial assistance. Korea has a single-track 6-3-3-4 system, which denotes six years of elementary school, three years of middle school, three years of high school, and four years of college and university which also offer graduate courses leading to master’s degrees and doctoral degrees. The single track has been characteristic of the Korean education system, which maintains a single ladder system of schooling in order to ensure that every citizen can receive primary, secondary, and tertiary education.

The School System and Curriculums of Korea

Year National curriculum Type of school and span of grades Notes
3 Nuri Curriculum 3 to 5 years Kindergarten  
6 The National Common Basic Curriculum 6 to 14 years old, for 9 years 1 Elementary school Compulsory Education 6 to 14 years old, for 9 years
7 2
8 3
9 4
10 5
11 6
12 1 Middle school
13 2
14 3
15 High school 16 2 High School Elective-Centered Curriculum, 15 to 17 years, for 3 years 1 High school  
16 2
17 3

Although preschool education is not yet compulsory, its importance has been increasingly recognized in recent years. Preschool education institutions in Korea are kindergartens. Kindergartens cover pre-elementary school children from ages 3 to 5. In 2015, the number of kindergartens was 8,930. As of 2015, there were 11,590 elementary (5,978), middle (3,219), and high schools (2,393). Elementary schooling is compulsory with an enrollment rate of nearly 100 percent. Three more years of compulsory education in middle school was implemented nationwide in 2002. In recent years, there were several changes in secondary schools. The causes of these changes are: 1) the 2015 curriculum revision and educational policy that emphasizes creative and character building education; 2) the stress of school accountability according to the results of the national level achievement test given to students in the third year of middle school, and second year of high school; 3) the evaluation of schools and teachers; 4) diversification of secondary schools and expansion of the right to select high schools; and 5) changes in policies for entrance to universities from a single test to a multiple assessment portfolio. Many middle and high schools have undergone changes. For example, many schools make their own unique school curriculum by SBCD (school-based curriculum development), and schools stress creative activities for students to receive good evaluations. There are also two- to three-year junior colleges and vocational colleges. The ratio of high school graduates who advanced to institutions of higher learning is about 80 percent for high schools. Special education in Korea is conducted at all levels of education: kindergartens, elementary and secondary schools, and special schools. Many general schools have special classes for students with disabilities. The main issue regarding special education in Korea is the inclusion of students with special needs and the expansion of understanding about disabilities.

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