After Busan Kindergarten was founded in 1897, as a Japanese-only institution, Kyungsung Kindergarten was founded in 1913, and Ewha Kindergarten in 1914. Prior to 1976, private kindergartens played a key role in developing early childhood education in Korea. Introduced in 1976, the first kindergartens annexed to primary schools changed such trend, putting public kindergartens at the forefront of early childhood education. As of 2016, there are 8,987 kindergartens in total, in which three of them are national kindergartens, 4,693 are public kindergartens, and 4,291 are private kindergartens, serving a total of 704,138 children nationwide.
The kindergarten enrollment rate is steadily on the rise (’05, 30.9% → ’10, 40.2% → ’16, 49%).
Establishing The Education Act in 1949, the government formulated policies relating to the management of kindergartens. Based on the Education Act, the government established the Kindergarten Facilities Standard Ordinance (1962), The National Kindergarten Curriculum (1969), and Early Childhood Education Promotion Act (1982). In 1992, the government reformed The Education Act and the Early Childhood Education Promotion Act, which admits children aged 3 into the kindergarten. The Early-Childhood Education Act was established in 2004 and its ordinances in 2005.
The national kindergarten curriculum has been reformed ten times since the first curriculum was established in 1969. The Nuri Curriculum was implemented for all five-year-olds in 2012, and was expanded to cover all three to four-year-olds in 2013. The Nuri Curriculum is designed to promote the development of children in five key areas (physical exercise, health, communication, social relationship, artistic experience, nature exploration) with the aim to promote balanced growth of both mind and body.
Budgetary allocations for early childhood educational expenses are gradually expanding. Since the implementation of the Nuri Curriculum, subsidies have been provided to families with children regardless of their household income, which led to a dramatic increase in early childhood education/childcare budgets. The total budget for early childhood education is 4 trillion Korean won (including educational grants and the Nuri Curriculum budget) as of 2016.
A bill designed to provide free early childhood education for one year prior to formal education was proposed in 1995 and was legislated in 1998. Furthermore, the Nuri Curriculum was implemented for all five-year-olds in 2012, and the government supported expenses of education (kindergarten) and childcare fees (daycare centers), which was expanded to three and four-year-olds in 2013.
Making efforts to improve the quality of early childhood education has led to an increase in the enrollment and budget as well as developing a full-day kindergarten program. In order to ensure the equality of early childhood education, the Nuri Curriculum was implemented in 2012 for all five-year-olds, which was expanded to three and four-year-olds in 2013. The Nuri Curriculum is a common education/childcare curriculum that is appropriate for children in both kindergartens and daycare centers. It has created a conducive environment for providing high-quality early childhood education for all pre-primary institutions. Moreover, it has alleviated the quality gap of education/childcare services in kindergartens and daycare centers, and has promoted common and integrated educational services to enhance parents' satisfaction.