South Korea Education System

Ranked Number One Internationally

Population: 50.22 million

Language: Korean

Primary School: Free education from age 6 to 15 (Grades 1st to 6th)

Senior High School: Tuition based schools from ages 16 to 18

School Year: 220 days a year

School Day: 13 hours a day in school (after school many attend a hagwan-private study sessions)

School is in session two Saturdays a month as well as 5 days a week.

School Hours:

9:00 am to 5:00 pm in school

5:00 pm to 10:00 pm in hagwons (3/4 of students go to these study sessions)

High School students do not normally get home until after 11pm, so dinner is served at school

Ministry of Education Science and Technology (MEST)

The education system is centralized. There are central office that reports to regional offices which in turn report to provincial offices that take policy and procedure directives from the MEST. However, they can make budgetary and hiring decisions in each region. There are local school boards elected, however 50% of the board members have 10+ years of experience in education.

South Korea spends $6,976 per student in primary grades, $12,338 per student in lower secondary school, and $9,698 per student in upper secondary.

School Accountability and Evaluation Programs

Annual Reviews

Schools are evaluated annually by specialized monitoring groups. They use evaluation plans set by MEST which includes teaching and learning practices, curriculum and student progress, They have recently added incentive programs which reward high performing teaching monthly stipends. These reviews are not used punitively, but meant for opportunities to improve academic performance from administrators. The results from the evaluations are reported publicly.


South Korea has a national curriculum in monitored by the MEST, and revised every 5 to 10 years. South Korea plans to go to digital textbooks by the year 2015. In primary school the core subjects are; ethics, Korean/English language, math, science, social studies, PE, music, and the arts. In lower secondary school there are ability based classes in math, English/Korean language, social studies, science; the core classes which are not ability based are moral education, PE, music, fine and practical arts. There are also optional classes including foreign language, computer info technology, and environmental education. The senior secondary school offers the same core classes as the lower secondary school. There are specialized classes in science and social studies that are divided into physics, chemistry, biology, Earth science, geography, history, politics, economic cultural studies. There are also some secondary schools that are specialized and vocational based.