According to the OECD in South Korea “over 70 percent of high school graduates go to four-year universities.” The figure is even higher if you count all forms of higher education. In the 2000s about four out of ten high school graduates in South Korea went on to college. School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 17 year; male: 17 years; female: 16 years (2013). School life expectancy (SLE) is the total number of years of schooling (primary to tertiary) that a child can expect to receive. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020, Organization for Economic and Cooperation and Development (OECD)]

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Families put a lot of pressure on Korean students to excel, both for the family's reputation and for the students' own future. This pressure drives students to work long hours in the evening at the cram schools and at home doing homework. Although Korea has plenty of public and private schools and numerous colleges and universities, mass education has created tremendous competition. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, London, 2000]

The Korean education system consists of six years of elementary school, three years of middle school and three years of high school. Elementary schooling is free and compulsory. In the early 2000s, fees were charged in the middle and high schools. More 90 percent of the children go on to middle school and 88 percent of those continue into high school.

South Korea take a hierarchal, top down approach to education. The Ministry of Education makes most policy decisions, and sets guidelines for textbooks, curriculum, standards, testing, and finances in private as well as public schools. There is an emphasis on uniformity in Korean schools. The curriculum is the same for all students and even music teachers are told precisely which songs they have to teach in each grade. There is generally no failing or advancing a grade, nor are there slow or fast groups within a given class. If students fall behind they must attend cram school classes to catch up.

The Korean family is the cornerstone of the Korean school program, and because the father is rarely home, the mother bears most of the responsibility for making sure her children do well in school. She drills her children, reads to them and works hard to supplement what they are taught in school.

Academic Year in South Korea

The South Korean school year begins in March and ends in February. There are around 220 school days each year, compared to 180 days in the United States, but a number of days are taken up with field trips, cultural festivals and other ceremonies. Students used go to school five and a half days a week, with Saturday afternoons and Sundays off. Since 2010, they have only had to go to school two Saturdays per month

There are two several-week school vacations: one in the summer and one in the winter. One of the main reason for these vacations is that many schools don't have heating for the frigid winters or air conditioning for the sweltering summers. There are two semesters. The first runs from March through July; the second from September through February. During the summer and winter breaks in the late 1990s there were 10 optional half days at the beginning and end of each break which were attended by practically all students. [Source: Richard Diem, Tedd Levy, and Ronald Van Sickle, Asia Society, based on 1996 visit]

Longest school years in days: 1) China, 251; 2) Japan, 243; 3) Korea, 220; 4) Israel, 214. Teaching hours per year in South Korea: 650 in elementary school; 500 in middle school; and 490 in high school, compared to 970 in elementary school; 970 in middle school; and 950 in high school in the United States and 985 in elementary school; 985 in middle school; and 874 in high school in New Zealand. [Source: OECD, 2000]

School Days in South Korea

Richard Diem, Tedd Levy, and Ronald Van Sickle wrote for the Asia Society: A typical day finds high schoolers studying before school begins at about 8:00 A.M. Classes run for 50 minutes each, with a morning break and a 50-minute lunch period. The afternoon session resumes at about 1:00 P.M., and classes continue until about 4:00 or 4:30, followed by the cleaning of the classroom. Students may then take a short dinner break at home, or they may eat at school. Teachers typically move from room to room, while students stay in one place. [Source: Richard Diem, Tedd Levy, and Ronald Van Sickle, Asia Society, based on 1996 visit]

Students return to the school library to study or attend private schools or tutoring sessions until between 10:00 P.M. and midnight. They return home where they may have a snack, listen to music, or watch television before going to bed. Elementary and middle school students have similar but somewhat less rigorous days with shorter hours and more recreational activities.

According to the “World Education Encyclopedia”: “Considering daily class hours and calendar length, as well as after school instructional hours (academic and extracurricular), the amount of time spent by each student on education becomes significantly higher. A high school student in Seoul typically starts school at 7:30 A.M. and ends at 5:00 P.M. Some students also undertake a year or more of extra college preparatory work when they do not at first pass their desired college's entrance examination. Although it has sporadically been declared illegal, high school students have been forced to remain at school for "self-study" as late as 9:00 or 10:00 P.M. to prepare for the college entrance examination. [Source: Young-Key Kim-Renaud, “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Busy Day of a South Korean Student

Reeta Chakrabarti of the BBC wrote : “South Korea has been one of the highest achievers on international PISA tests but it means long hours of study. Hye-Min Park is 16 and lives in the affluent Seoul district of Gangnam, made famous by the pop star Psy. Her day is typical of that of the majority of South Korean teenagers. She rises at 6.30am, is at school by 8am, finishes at 4pm, (or 5pm if she has a club), then pops back home to eat. [Source: Reeta Chakrabarti, BBC News, December 2, 2013]

“She then takes a bus to her second school shift of the day, at a private crammer or hagwon, where she has lessons from 6pm until 9pm. She spends another two hours in what she calls self-study back at school, before arriving home after 11pm. She goes to bed at 2am, and rises in the morning at 6.30am to do it all over again.

"I get tired usually but I can forget about my hardships when I see my results, because they're kind of good!" She told the BBC that she would like to get more sleep but it's her job to overcome it. To get the qualifications to follow her dream career as a teacher she has to work hard she says, and besides she likes studying, and learning new things.

Many middle school and high school students return to school again between 6:00pm to 10:00pm for a study hall called "autonomous study night." Some take two school "lunch" boxes to school each day. One for Natasha Gabrielle wrote in the Huffington Post: “ It’s normal for students to attend class all day long and then to attend private academies well into the evening. Many do this every day. For those who don’t attend private academies, some public schools offer night classes. My current high school does this — and we also serve dinner at the cafeteria. Many of my students are at school from 8am to 10pm each day — this is very different than American public school life. [Source: Natasha Gabrielle, Huffington Post, March 14, 2016]

Amanda Ripley wrote in Time Magazine: “The problem is not that South Korean kids aren't learning enough or working hard enough; it's that they aren't working smart. When I visited some schools, I saw classrooms in which a third of the students slept while the teacher continued lecturing, seemingly unfazed. Gift stores sell special pillows that slip over your forearm to make desktop napping more comfortable. This way, goes the backward logic, you can sleep in class — and stay up late studying.” [Source: Amanda Ripley, Time, September 25, 2011]

Uniforms and Rules in South Korean Schools

Korean students generally don't wear school uniforms in the coed elementary school but they wear them in the separate boys and girls middle school and high school. The boy's uniform consists of a white shirt, blue blazer with matching pants. The girl's uniform is solid-colored or plaid knee-length skirt and a sailor-style or plain white blouse.

Korean schools have strict rules about fingernail length and hair styles. Cosmetics are banned and students with long and died hair sometimes have it shorn on the spot by a teacher or principal. Girls often bring make-up and current fashion items in their school bags and change into them after school. At most schools, students take turns handling clean-up tasks after lunch. They collect the trays and utensils, and also get rid of trash.

Se-Woong Koo wrote in the New York Times: “Obedience to authority is enforced both at home and school. I remember the time I disagreed with my homeroom teacher in middle school by writing him a letter about one of his rules. The letter led to my being summoned to the teacher’s office, where I was berated for an hour and a half, not about the substance of my words but the fact that I had expressed my view at all. He had a class to teach but he did not bother to leave our meeting because he was so enraged that someone had questioned his authority. I knew then that trying to be rational or outspoken in school was pointless.” [Source: Se-Woong Koo, New York Times, August 1, 2014; Koo is a former fellow and lecturer in Korean studies at Yale, and editor in chief of Korea Exposé,]

Class Size and Student Organization

The number of students in each classroom is generally larger than in the United States. The teacher to student ratio is listed at 25 to 1 for South Korea but a typical primary and middle school class used to have around 40 students and a secondary school class had 50 students. In 2001, the government authorized US$12.8 billion spent over three years to hire 23,000 new teachers, with goal of reducing the average class size from 43 to 35 or less. Classes are smaller now in a large part because of South Korea’s low birthrate.

Teachers organize students into groups with student leaders who use peer pressure to keep the group members in line. The students in Korean schools are generally better behaved and there are far fewer discipline problems than in the United States.

Korean elementary schools tend to be organized but fun and emphasize community responsibility and group activities. The education system doesn't get to be oppressive until middle school and high school when students are required to memorize a lot of facts, and do a lot of math and science problems in preparation for major entrance exams.

In Korean middle schools and high schools, there are often 50 or 60 students in a classroom, and classes are often conducted like military drills with the students obediently following orders. Korean education consists primarily of book exercises, grammar lessons, South Korean propaganda, call-and-response drills, and multiple choice tests. Teachers often spend the entire class period lecturing and students are generally encouraged to be passive, do what they told and not ask any questions.

Classrooms not heated or air conditioned. In the winter students show up in their winter coats, scarves and gloves. Sometimes their ears and noses turn red and you can see their breath.

School Lunches in South Korea

Natasha Gabrielle, a teacher in South Korea, wrote in the Huffington Post: “In the public school system in South Korea, it’s normal for the students and teachers to all eat together at the same time. We also eat the same meals and at the same tables. This fits in with the Korean culture, which is very communal. There are a few things about Korean school lunches that tend to stay the same — there is usually a soup and rice served with each meal. In addition to this, there is quite a variety with the types of foods that are served. In many Korean meals, banchan, or side dishes, are served. This may be kimchi, radishes, or a mixture of vegetables.” A typical lunch “features kimchi jjigae, a spicy soup. The lunch also features noodles, rice, kimchi, nori seaweed, cucumbers and onions in a spicy sauce, and mini pajeon, which are little pancakes made with batter, onions and other vegetables, and seafood.” [Source: Natasha Gabrielle, Huffington Post, March 14, 2016]

Another “meal features jajangmyeon, which is a Korean Chinese dish that includes noodles with a sauce made from black beans. It’s also served with rice, kimchi, and animal shaped chicken nuggets with a honey mustard sauce. I love when we have fruit for lunch. On this school day, the meal coordinator placed an extra slice of watermelon on my plate. This meal is bokum bap, or fried rice. It’s also served with egg drop soup, and a spicy salad made from onions, cucumbers, and apples.

“Some of the school lunches include a bit of a Western touch.” One “lunch has a pasta side dish with potatoes in it. The soup featured in this lunch is dubu chigae, which includes zucchini, tofu, and spicy red pepper flakes. This is one of my favourite Korean soups. Another lunch featured a side of french toast and a cheesy corn salad. The main entree is bibimbap, a collection of vegetables, rice, and gochujang, a spicy paste. When stirred all together, it’s delicious!

Seoul Votes on School Lunches

Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “Low turnout in South Korea’s first vote on a social policy left in place a program in Seoul providing free lunches for 810,000 elementary and middle school students, a victory for the liberal opposition, which had urged a boycott. Though the voting, like the lunch program, was confined to Seoul, the capital, it took on national proportions with all political parties joining the debate in a sign that, after decades of bickering over civil liberties, the economy and North Korea, they were now entering the unfamiliar field of social welfare. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times August 24, 2011]

Mayor Oh Se-hoon, urging more restraint in welfare spending, had asked voters to limit free lunches to only lower-income children, at an estimated savings of US$100 million a year. His conservative ally, President Lee Myung-bak, supported him by joining in his denouncement of “populist welfare.” The liberal opposition urged supporters of universal free lunches not to vote, so the result would not be valid.

When the polls closed, only 25.7 percent of the city’s 9.4 million eligible voters had voted, lower than the 33.3 percent minimum for a valid result, leaving in place the broad lunch program set up in January by the opposition-dominated City Council. By law, the votes of an invalidated referendum are not counted. “I humbly accept the voting result,” Mr. Oh said. Earlier he had vowed to resign if the proposal he backed lost.

Mr. Oh, a member of the governing party, the conservative Grand National Party, had played on the economic anxiety, contending that supplying free meals to all of Seoul’s schoolchildren would break the city’s US$19.1 billion budget. “We must fight welfare populism; it will ruin the country,” he said Sunday during a televised news conference, kneeling down tearfully to implore citizens to turn out for the vote. Kwak No-hyun, the superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, who was elected on the liberal opposition ticket with a promise to provide all children with free lunches, argued that Mr. Oh’s approach would “divide our children into rich and poor.” “It’s a crime to ask poor children to eat rice in humiliation,” he said.

“The expression “eating rice in humiliation,” which supporters of free lunches often use, reminds Koreans of the deprivation after the 1950-53 Korean War, when many had to beg to survive. In what is now Asia’s fourth-largest economy, the expression still packs force among parents noted for their zeal to provide their children with any advantage.

Emphasis on Education in South Korea

Education in South Korea is taken very seriously and highly emphasized at all levels. . School children under great pressure from the family and friends to succeed academically. Parents go to great lengths to provide the best education for their children. In the past this was especially true but now is true for sons and daughters. Not only Koreans but most Asians have traditionally revered scholars, valued learning, and have seen education as a way of gaining success and bringing esteem to one's family. One star Vietnamese student in Los Angeles told Smithsonian magazine, my parents "are really proud of me. So I have to keep improving, even if there is no room for improvement. I also feel their pressure. Just study, they say. I can't wash the dishes, mow the lawn or take a summer job. Their entire goal is to see me succeed."

Anna Fifield wrote in the Washington Post: “It’s hard to exaggerate the premium South Korea places on education. This is a society in which you have to get into the right kindergarten, so that you can get into the right elementary school, then into the right middle school and high school, and finally into the right college. Which, of course, gets you the right job and scores you the right spouse. [Source: Anna Fifield, Washington Post, December 30, 2014]

Young-Key Kim-Renaud wrote in the “World Education Encyclopedia”: “The most important characteristic of Koreans is their zeal for education (Ch'oe et al. 380). This fervor for learning, often labeled the "education syndrome," is not a new trend but comes from the Korean people's traditional respect for knowledge and belief in continuous human development. Probably the most important characteristic of Korean culture is its tenet that only the most learned should rule the country and society. Educational attainment has long been accepted as a fair measure of a person's worth, and scholars are still called upon to fill some of the highest government positions. It is also seen as an effective, essential instrument for nurturing national strength. The South Korean government thus takes a strong interest in the country's education, and the Ministry of Education (MOE) is one of the most important executive branches. [Source: Young-Key Kim-Renaud, “World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Anthony Faiola wrote in the Washington Post: “But critics have charged that the emphasis on education in South Korea has gone too far, with many parents pushing their children to attend extra hours of night school that last until 9 or 10 p.m. every weeknight. To escape the pressure, some South Korean families have begun moving abroad — to Canada, the United States and Europe in search of less competitive educational systems. [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, November 18, 2004]

Punishments, Discipline and Unruly Students in South Korean School

Corporal punishments has traditionally been uncommon in elementary school but common in junior and senior high schools. Teachers used carry sticks and routinely kick, slapped, punched and beat their students and forced them to kneel, stand on one leg or raise their hands in the air until their limbs got numb. Bruises and bloodied noses frequently occurred and it was not uncommon for teachers to break bones and burst eardrums. Teachers often punished students in front of the class to set an example.

Choi Tae-hwan, an English teacher at Jeonnam Middle School in Gwangju, wrote in the Korea Times: “During the election of a classroom leader in a sixth-grade classroom, a student is listening to loud music on his cell phone even after being told to stop many times. The teacher has no choice but to take his phone away from him. He begins to swear at the teacher, shouting “Why did you take my cell phone away? Give it back to me.” How terrible it is for a student to heap abuse on a teacher using unspeakable words in class! However, the teacher has no intention of giving the student’s cell phone back to him. He hits the teacher on the chest and side with a chair, and verbally abuses the teacher, spitting out, “I’ll kill you by clubbing you round the head.” Have you ever heard of the above situation? Have you ever imagined that a student could have such a horrible relation with a teacher in a classroom compared with that of his parents’ generation? What a terrible day for that teacher! [Source: Choi Tae-hwan, Korea Times, August 5, 2011]

“Across the country, a great number of teachers are struggling to survive the so-called “Bomb or 1315 generation,” referring to children between 13 and 15. They have no sense of guilt or responsibility, with a lack of family education in a nuclear family and humanization education at exam-centered schools. The bomb generation is likely to be at the center of group bullying, school violence and even physical attacks against teachers in accordance with the ban of physical punishment at schools. Many of them are out of control. They are driven into the hell of exam-centered school life without any kind of reading and humanization education. A teacher has difficulty teaching them decent manners and obedience.

“Unfortunately, many female teachers are afraid to enter classrooms. They are sometimes at a loss over what to do in disciplining difficult students. They are also reluctant to instruct difficult students as they might risk punishment for disciplining them. It is natural that difficult students have a callous attitude toward school violence, bullying friends and sexual violence. They are not instructed and educated about what is wrong with their words, behavior and manners, both at home and at school.

“It is regrettable that students have a tendency to become both victims and attackers in school violence at a young age. They don’t hesitate to make excuses for their behavior, with 55 percent of attackers ? up 10 percent from 2008 ? saying their actions are “Just pranks, not violence, or have no rational reason.” As they become seniors, they tend to become callous toward violence. The appearance of a “classroom collapse and the bomb generation” is one of the terrible side effects of exam-centered education, lack of family education and a ban on physical punishment. Many students become egoistic, self-centered and violent, by talking back, swearing at teachers and becoming violent.

Let's keep in mind the maxim, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” The sooner we begin to stress the family role in strict education and humanity-based school education, the sooner children and students can learn manners and a sense of responsibility so that they will be the prop for the developed country of Korea in the next century.

Low Birthrate Has Big Impact on Schools

South Korea has one of the lowest birthrates in the world. This has had a profound impact on education, dramatically reducing the number of students entering primary and secondary schools. In 1981, 5.3 million children entered school in South Korea.In 1995, only 3.95 million did. Now only around a half a million enter school every year.

The trend is particularly evident in rural areas. At the Masan Elementary School is the southern town of Masan, there were 56 students in 2005, less than a tenth of the number in the 1970's. According to the New York Times: “Back then, pupils were packed together so that schools had what were called "bean sprout classrooms," said Kim Deok Sang, the principal. Nowadays, Masan's students have to join those at the two nearest schools for sporting and other events. [Source: Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times August 21, 2005]

Han Sang-hee wrote in the Korea Times: “Ministry officials say that a further fall in the number of students is unavoidable as the country’s birthrate is unlikely to show any marked rebound, a prospect that will drastically change the country’s education landscape. Korea’s birthrate stands at 1.24. The reasons for the low birthrate vary but the expense of private education tops the list. The institute’s survey of more than 2,500 households showed that about 43 percent of Korean parents said they gave up having a second child due to education expenses. It also showed that 99.8 percent of preschoolers aged over three were receiving private education at a monthly cost of 440,000 won on average, including kindergarten fees. Not surprisingly, when asked if the high private education was one of the main reasons for the low birthrate, 95.8 percent of the parents answered yes. [Source: Han Sang-hee, Korea Times, February 6, 2011]

“According to the Jungbu District Office of Education in Seoul, the number of new students starting school this year has dropped dramatically. Kyodong Elementary School in Jongno, which has some 100 students in total, will admit only seven new students this year, a drop from the 12 in 2010 and 15 in 2009. Jaedong Elementary School, also in Jongno, which had some 830 graduates in 1970, also saw a fall in graduates with only 70 this year. The school expects to register 38 new students. Other schools around the region, including Maedong Elementary School and Chungmu Elementary School, have also seen a decrease in the number of new students, a phenomenon witnessed in some Seoul districts which have been hollowed out as a growing number of residents move to the outskirts of the capital.

“With the decreasing number of students, more schools face difficulties in running school events including field trips and sporting activities, not to mention worries regarding social relations between peers and also the possibility of closing down permanently.Namsan Elementary, which welcomed only 30 students for the past two years, started to promote their school in banks, kindergartens, department stores and hospitals with fliers, and has also began an ""eight to nine care center’’ where the school takes care of students with parents who both work from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Schools are engaging in competition with other neighboring institutions to attract parents and their children.”

South Korean School Kids Studying Abroad

To escape the Korean education rat race and get their children a good grounding in English, many parents end their children to school in the United States and Canada and other countries.

Kyna Rubin wrote in the International Educator: To give their children an edge in the U.S. college admissions process, Korean parents have long been placing offspring in pre-college, U.S.-based private and public schools. Of the Koreans who applied for undergraduate slots at the University of Illinois in 2013, for example, 69 percent applied directly from U.S. secondary schools, according to that university’s office of undergraduate admissions. [Source: Kyna Rubin, International Educator, March-April, 2014]

According to the “World Education Encyclopedia”: “Previously students generally completed their basic education through college or at least high school in Korea and went abroad for higher degrees. As the government relaxed its control on students going abroad, however, demand for overseas studies has grown so much that even young children are sent away from home to start their education early, albeit in only insignificant numbers. In 2000, more than 20,000 precollege students studied abroad, usually at their own expense. From March 1999 to February 2000, some 11,237 precollege students went to study abroad, mainly in the United States. [Source: Young-Key Kim-Renaud,“World Education Encyclopedia”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

In the early 2010s the number of South Korean students in the United States and abroad began to decline. The number of primary- or secondary-school Koreans who went abroad for study was 10,907 in 2014, a nearly two-thirds decline from the 2006 peak. According to a report by the National Association of Independent Schools, Koreans were being quickly replaced by Chinese secondary students as the largest group of international students at independent schools. Richard Phelps, the Association of Boarding School’s director of research and strategic resources told International Educator Korean enrollments in member schools plunged 31 percent between 2010–2011 and 2012–2013 (from 3,800 to 2,600). [Source: Jee Heun Kahng, Reuters, December 8, 2015; Kyna Rubin, International Educator, March-April, 2014]

Studying Abroad Divides South Korean Families

In many cases with South Korean kids that study abroad the mother accompanies the children while father remains in South Korea, earning the tens of thousand of dollars necessary to foot the bill. In a typical case, sending one child overseas can cost US$8,000 for tuition (the cost for a foreigner to attend public school) and US$20,000 a year in living expenses. Some families have two children doing this and their education expenses eat up 70 percent of their income.

Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “Many parents want to send children abroad so they can learn English and avoid the crushing pressure and narrow focus of the Korean educational system. The number of South Korean students from elementary school through high school who go abroad for education increased to 27,350 in 2008 from 1,840 in 1999, according to government data. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, August 22, 2010]

“But this arrangement often resulted in the fracturing of families, with the mother accompanying the children abroad and the father becoming a “goose” by staying behind to earn the money to finance these ventures and taking occasional transoceanic flights to visit. This trend has raised alarms about broken families and a brain drain from a country that is already suffering from one of the world’s lowest birthrates. Many of the children who study abroad end up staying abroad; those who return often have trouble finding jobs at Korean companies, regaining their language fluency or adapting to the Korean way of doing business.

“Lee Kyung-min, 42, a pharmacist in Seoul whose 12-year-old daughter, Jeong Min-joo, attended a private school in Canada for a year and a half, said she knew why families were willing to make sacrifices to send their children away. “In South Korea, it’s all rote learning for college entrance exams,” Ms. Lee said. “A student’s worth is determined solely by what grades she gets.” She added that competition among parents forced their children to sign up for extracurricular cram sessions that left them with little free time to develop their creativity. “Children wither in our education system,” she said.

“So Min-joo’s parents believed that exposing her to a Western school system was worth the US$5,000 they paid each month for her tuition and board, 10 times what they would have spent had she studied at home. But Ms. Lee said her heart sank when Min-joo began forgetting her Korean grammar and stopped calling home. Still, she did not want to leave her husband behind to join her daughter, because she had witnessed in her own neighborhood how often the loneliness of “goose” fathers led to broken marriages. “Our family was losing its bonds, becoming just a shell,” she said. In June, they brought Min-joo home.”

Western Schools on Jeju Island in South Korean

Jeju Global Education City is a self-contained community within Seogwipo on Jeju Island. It is home to seven International schools, an English language education center, foreign educational institution and residential and commercial facilities. Approximately 20,000 people and 9,000 students live there. The idea is that South Korean parents can send their kids there to live an environment where everyone speaks only English and they can get a Western education without leaving Korea.. [Source: Jeju Global Education City website]

Reporting from Seogwipo at the time Jeju Global Education City was just oepning, Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: The family of Min-joo described above said they plan to enroll her in one of the international boarding schools in Jeju (Cheju) next year. For Ms. Lee, this is the closest she can get to sending her daughter abroad without leaving the country. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, August 22, 2010]

By 2015, if all goes according to plan, a number prestigious Western schools will have opened branch campuses in a government-financed, 940-acre Jeju Global Education City, a self-contained community within Seogwipo, where everyone students, teachers, administrators, doctors, store clerks will speak only English.

“What is happening in South Korea is part of the global expansion of Western schools a complex trend fueled by parents in Asia and elsewhere who want to be able to keep their families together while giving their children a more global and English-language curriculum beginning with elementary school, and by governments hoping for economic rewards from making their countries more attractive to foreigners with money to invest. “We will do everything humanly possible to create an environment where your children must speak English, even if they are not abroad,” Jang Tae-young, a Jeju official, recently told a group of Korean parents.

“By inviting leading Western schools, the government is hoping to address one of the notorious stress points in South Korean society. “There is an expressed desire in Korea to seek the benefits of a ‘Western’ or ‘American’ approach to pre-collegiate education,” said Ted Hill, headmaster of the Chadwick School, whose Songdo campus has been deluged with applicants to fill the 30 percent of slots reserved for Korean students. The balance of the student body will be recruited from expatriate families living in South Korea and China. “When we explain to Korean parents what we try to do in the classroom, we see their eyes light up,” said Chris DeMarino, business development director at Dulwich College Management International, which has a government-set 25 percent ceiling on Korean students at its Seoul school. “There is a tremendous demand for what we offer, but, unfortunately, we have to turn many of them away.”

“Critics say that the Jeju schools with annual tuition fees of US$17,000 to US$25,800 and their English-language curriculum, aside from the Korean language and history classes for Korean students will create “schools for the rich.” But Kwon Do-yeop, a vice minister of land, transport and maritime affairs whose department oversees the project, said it could save South Korea US$500 million annually in what is now being spent to educate children overseas. “Jeju schools cost half what you spend when you have your children studying in the United States,” said Byon Jong-il, the chief of the Jeju Free International City Development Center, which is managing the education project as part of an overall plan for the island. “Not everything goes right when you send your children abroad.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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