Education system in Korea

Korean Education System

Korean education uses a 6-3-3-4 single ladder system - six years in elementary school, three years each in middle school and high school, and four years in university. All citizens have equal access to education based on their ability regardless of their social status or position. The nine years of elementary and middle school are compulsory, but from high school and beyond, students choose an education path in line with their career choice.

Early childhood education, the first step in addressing learning gaps (Early Childhood Education Policy Division)

Childcare and development programs are offered at kindergartens for children ages 3 and older and daycare centers for babies and toddlers. In accordance with relevant laws, these two entities operate differently. Overall enrollment rate is 98.2%: 3-year-olds accounts for 98.2%, 4-year-olds, 95.8%, and 5-year-olds, 90.2%—all are much higher than the average of OECD countries. Thanks to the heightened public awareness of the role of early childhood education, kindergarten enrollment has risen from 26.2% in 2000 to 48.9% in 2021.

To guarantee equal educational opportunities from early life, the government is expanding the state’s responsibility for early childhood education. In particular, the government-funded Nuri Curriculum helps relieve burden on parents, offering more opportunities for early childhood education. The curriculum was launched in 2012 for five-year-olds and then expanded to three- and four-year-olds in 2013. Government policies to increase public accountability for kindergartens include statutory improvement in learning opportunities for children, expansion of public kindergarten services, encouragement of parental involvement, and a new accounting system for private kindergarten operations.

Elementary and Secondary Education - Guaranteeing Equal Educational Opportunities(Educational Opportunity Promotion Division)

Korea’s compulsory elementary education began in 1950 and advanced in phases over the next 30 years. Starting in 1985, compulsory middle school education was introduced and expanded regionally, starting with small-and medium-sized cities in rural areas, then larger cities, and finally Seoul, with nationwide implementation in 2004. Most schools are public, and the same level of education based on the national curriculum is provided free of charge.

Students graduating from middle school or those who passed a qualification exam providing equivalent credits are eligible to attend three-year high schools. High schools are classified as general, vocational, schools for gifted students, special purpose high schools (for science, arts, physical education, etc.), and autonomous high schools that have more autonomy over school administration and curricula. Students are free to select the high school that is consistent with their career goals. While high school education is not currently compulsory, it is nearly universal with an enrollment rate of 99.7%. Accordingly, the government instituted free high school education in 2019 to reduce the financial burden on parents.

Higher education emphasis on nurturing (Higher Education Policy Division, Educational Statistics Division)

Tertiary education is open to those having a high school diploma or equivalent credentials recognized by laws. College admissions decisions are made significantly based on College Scholastic Ability Test scores and other factors, such as school records. There are colleges, junior colleges, colleges of education for elementary school teacher candidates, and online colleges, just to name a few.

Because of education zeal, enrollment in higher education institutions, which stayed below 10% prior to the 1980s, hit 67.8% in 2019. In 2019, out of 430 higher education establishments, 372 were private, accounting for 86.5%. Since 2012, the government has implemented the national scholarship program with the goal of assisting all who are thirsty for post-secondary opportunities and options, as well as dormitory expansion and measures to ease housing burdens. As a central point for cultivating creative and innovative individuals, colleges are encouraged to provide tailor-made courses reflecting education consumers’ needs.

Vocational Education - Promoting the “Job First, University Later”(Vocational Education Policy Division)

Vocational education in Korea technically begins at the level of upper-secondary education. The majority of vocational education takes place in specialized vocational high schools, whereas Meister high schools offer industrial demand-driven courses, along with a number of general high schools that provide vocational education programs as part of their curriculum. The latest data (as of April 2020) reveals that there are 576 vocational high schools in Korea, accounting for 24.3% of all high schools, with 18.5% of high school students enrolled.

The government’s employment support system connects the central government, local offices of education and schools in helping students find more job opportunities after graduation. The newly established Central Employment Support Center is responsible for identifying companies with good future prospects and shares the information with the employment support centers under the metropolitan and provincial offices of education. The recent “Job First, University Later” initiative helps students get a job at an earlier age and also allows them to pursue higher education whenever they want after getting a job in order to advance their competency. Other support includes expansion of the college curricula for working students and tuition assistance to help them reach their career goals.

Substantial assistance for special education (Special Education Policy Division)

Kindergarten and elementary, middle, and high schools are mandatory for people with disabilities. Children younger than 3 years of age and high school graduates who aspire to get a 1-year career course, which is operated by designated institutes, also qualify for free tuition. Special education recipients are entitled not only to a curriculum that embraces the nature of disability but also to related services—counseling, treatment, assistive technology devices, etc. Since the enactment of the Special Education Promotion Act of 1978, the government has increased special education public schools. The enactment of the Act on Special Education for Persons with Disabilities, etc. in 2007 led to broadening the scope of free compulsory education and support, facilitating the construction of institutions, recruiting more teachers, and strengthening disability inclusion in education and occupational training. As of April 2021, a total number of students deemed eligible for special education and services is 98,154, which has been steadily increasing from year to year. Those attending special education schools and special education support centers and those enrolled in traditional schools (specialized or inclusive classroom) occupy 27.8% and 72.2%, respectively.

Greater Access to Lifelong Education(Lifelong Education Policy Division)

Lifelong education in Korea incorporates systematic educational activities of six areas: complementary schooling; adult literacy education; vocational education; liberal arts/culture/arts education; and civic participation education. Starting with the introduction of the Bachelor’s Degree Examination for Self-Education in 1990, the government’s support for lifelong education is demonstrated in the Academic Credit Bank System and Part-time Enrollment System in1995, Accounts for Lifelong Learning (ALL) in 2006, and a Lifelong-Learning University Project in 2008. In addition, semi-formal lifelong education institutions and online education systems are offered beyond the barriers of time and space for lifelong learning.

Education - One of the Substantial Governmental Expenditures(Budget Division)

Public education expenditure per pupil

The Korean government has been gradually increasing its spending on education over the last 40 years, and in 2020, the government spent 75.7 trillion won or four times the 19.2 trillion won spent in 2000. During these 20 years, Korea annually earmarked 15-20% of its total budget for education, the highest among OECD countries relative to their GDP.

National and educational taxes fund the education budget, and local governments receive revenue from subsidies disbursed by the central government and local taxes. In 2020, funds from the central government accounted for 72.6% of local education budgets, and income from local taxes accounted for 17.3%, which improved the local education finances and ensured students receive a quality education regardless of where they live. The government’s education budget funds the offices of education that oversee elementary and secondary school education, operate national universities and ducational administrative/research organizations, and provide partial subsidies for private universities which mostly depend on admission and tuition fees to meet their operational costs.

Curriculum and curriculum book

Curriculum (National Curriculum Policy Division)

We oversee the national curriculum under Article 23 of the Elementary and Secondary School Education Act—to ensure the equality of educational opportunities and maintain the quality of education. The national curriculum and local guidelines give individual schools flexibility, depending on the specific characteristics and goals of he school.

Revised periodically, the national curriculum encompasses social change, the emerging demand for education, and new horizons in the field of study.

Curriculum standards are the basis for each school's academic content and textbook development. The national curriculum changed 10times.

Curriculum reform in elementary, middle, and high schools
School System (2007)
Curriculum Announced Legislation Curriculum Features

1st

Apr. 20, 1954
Aug. 1, 1955

MOE Ordinance #35
MOE Ordinance #44
MOEOrdinance #45
MOE Ordinance #46

Ordinance on class time assignment Primary School Curriculum Middle School Curriculum High School Curriculum

  • Curriculum centered around school education.

2nd

Feb. 15, 1963

MOE Ordinance #119
MOE Ordinance #120
MOE Ordinance #121

Primary School Curriculum Middle School Curriculum High School Curriculum

  • Experiential Curriculum
  • Chinese Letters education(72)
  • Military Exercise(69)

3rd

Feb. 14, 1973
Aug. 31, 1973
Dec. 31, 1974

MOE Ordinance #310
MOE Ordinance #325
MOE Ordinance #350

Primary School Curriculum Middle School Curriculum High School Curriculum

  • Curriculum focused on academic enrichment
  • Ethics(73)
  • Korean History(73)
  • Japanese Language(73)

4th

Dec. 31, 1981

MOE Notice #442

Primary School Curriculum Middle School Curriculum High School Curriculum

  • Emphasis on national spirit
  • Reduction/coordination of learning amount
  • Intergrated curriculum management for 1st and 2nd year primary schools

5th

Mar. 31, 1987
Jun. 31, 1987
Mar. 31, 1988

MOE Notice #87-7
MOE Notice #87-9
MOE Notice #88-7

Primary School Curriculum Middle School Curriculum High School Curriculum

  • Science High Schools and Arts High schools
  • Integrated curriculum for primary schools
  • New subjects: Information industry
  • Emphasis on economics education
  • Emphasis on regional characteristics

6th

Jun. 31, 1992
Sep. 31, 1992
Oct. 30, 1992
Nov. 1, 1995

MOE Notice #1992-11
MOE Notice #1992-16
MOE Notice #1992-19
MOE Notice #1995-7

Middle School Curriculum Primary School Curriculum High School Curriculum Primary School Curriculum

  • Improvement of organization/management system
  • Sharing roles among the government, region, and schools
  • New subjects: Computer, environment, Russian language. areer/vocation
  • Specialized subjects on foreign language
  • Primary school English

7th

Dec. 31, 1997
Jun. 31, 1998

MOE Notice #1997-15
MOE Notice #1998-10
MOE Notice #1998-11

Primary/secondary curriculum Kindergarten curriculum Special education curriculum Vocational high school curriculum

  • Curriculum centered around the students
  • Curriculum on basic national curriculum
  • Selection-based high school curriculum
  • Level-based curriculum
  • Establishment and expansion of independent activities
  • Objective(Competence)-based Curriculum
  • Expansion of regional and school independence

2007 Revised Curriculum

February 28, 2007.

September 11, 2008

December 26, 2008

MEHRD Notice No. 2007-79

MEST Notice No. 2008-148

MEST Notice No. 2008-160

Elementary and secondary school curriculum, special education curriculum

  • Enhance school autonomy in organizing and operating a curriculum
  • Allow intensive programs by semester or year
  • Integrate and unify high school electives
  • Help students grow into intelligent, virtuous, and healthy individuals

2009 Revised Curriculum

March 6, 2009

December 23, 2009

May 12, 2010

January 27, 2011

February 24, 2011

August 9, 2011

March 21, 2012

July 9, 2012

December 7, 2012

December 13, 2012

December 18, 2013

MEST Notice No. 2009-10

MEST Notice No. 2009-41

MEST Notice No. 2020-24

MEST Notice No. 2011-5

MEST Notice No. 2011-13

MEST Notice No. 2011-361

MEST Notice No. 2021-3

MEST Notice No. 2012-14

MEST Notice No. 2012-29

MEST Notice No. 2012-31

MOE Notice No. 2013-7

Elementary and secondary school curriculum, special education curriculum

  • Reduce heavy academic workload
  • Present diverse and creative experiential activities
  • Strengthen basic education and core competencies
  • Enhance school autonomy in organizing and operating a curriculum

2015 Revised Curriculum

September 23, 2015

December 1, 2015

January 6, 2017

September 29, 2017

April 19, 2018

July 27, 2018

December 27, 2019

April 14, 2020

September 11, 2020

December 31, 2020

MOE Notice No. 2015-74

MOE Notice No. 2015-80

MOE Notice No. 2017-108

MOE Notice No. 2017-131

MOE Notice No. 2018-150

MOE Notice No. 2018-162

MOE Notice No. 2019-211

MOE Notice No. 2020-225

MOE Notice No. 2020-236

MOE Notice No. 2020-248

Elementary and secondary school curriculum, special education curriculum

  • Produce creative convergence talent
  • Realize happy learning by means of workload optimization and improved learning experience
  • Implement a curriculum capable of promoting core competencies
  • Reinforce foundational knowledge education in umanities, social studies, science, and technology
  • Consolidate consistency in content, teaching, and assessment

Introduced on December 30, 1997, the 7th Curriculum was used in 1st and 2nd grades in 2000, in 3rd and 4th grades in 2001, and in 5th and 6th grades in 2002, thereby being able to cover 12th graders in 2004.

Preparing for the 21st century, the era of globalization and knowledge-based society, the 7th Curriculum was crafted to foster people poised to confront challenges—with a new approach in the classroom. We decreased the amount of learning for each subject to an appropriate level and adapted a curriculum fulfilling the diverse needs of students and situations. Movement toward an increase in self-directed learning was a viable task, which would contribute to knowledge society.

Therefore, unlike previous versions, the student-centered 7th Curriculum accentuated an individual’s creativity and aptitude and defined an educated person as follows:

  • 1Person pursuing individuality as the foundation of personal growth
  • 2Person demonstrating ultimate creativity
  • 3Person seeking potential career pathways in a wide cultural spectrum
  • 4Person generating new value based on an understanding of national culture
  • 5Person making a contribution to community development based on democratic citizenship

Consisting of core courses and electives at high school levels, the 7th Curriculum covers from 1st to 10th grade. The general public can receive basic education important to daily life.

During 11th and 12th grades, students are given the opportunity to choose their desired subjects and courses that will make them create a career map.

After the 7th Curriculum was formulated, educational content and structure were reorganized, and the curriculum could be revised and updated often to meet social and cultural needs. Since 2007, the year of curriculum revision has been specified in the name, like the 2007 Revised Curriculum.

The 2015 Revised Curriculum, which is currently in use, removes high school curriculum tracks: liberal arts and sciences—with the aim of unleashing the humanities imagination and scientific and technological creativity of creative convergence talent. The followings are the characters of a person which the 2015 Revised Curriculum lays stress on.

  • 1Well-rounded person who has a positive self-concept and reclaims his or her career and life
  • 2Creative person with basic abilities who hallenges his or her ideas
  • 3Educated person who enjoys human culture on the basis of cultural literacy and respect for pluralism
  • 4Democratic and global person who considers and shares with other people based on a sense of community

In order to nurture the person as above mentioned, the competences we endeavor to instill in students throughout the entire educational process are as follows.

  • 1Self-management with essential qualities—including self-esteem and identity—necessary for a self-determined life and career
  • 2Information processing to utilize knowledge and information in various areas for rational problem solving
  • 3Creative thinking to bring something new into being through the integration of knowledge, skills, and experience from basic and specialized sectors
  • 4Aesthetic sensibility to discover and appreciate the true meaning of life based on empathy and cultural sensitivity
  • 5Communication to clearly express one's thoughts and feelings in a variety of situations and listen attentively to others
  • 6Sense of community to proactively participate in communal activities with the beliefs and attitudes required for the member of regional, national, and global communities
Curriculum book

Curriculum books manifest and translate the important elements of the curriculum. According to the user-based classification, curriculum books include textbooks and instructional guides—print and digital versions, audio recordings, and videos.

Curriculum books can be also divided into three types: government-designated, authorized, and approved textbooks.

The copyright in government-designated textbooks is owned by the Ministry of Education. Authorized textbooks require an inspection by the Minister of Education, and approved textbooks must acquire approval from the superintendent of education, a delegator of the Minister of Education. Approved textbooks are used only when there are no government-designated or authorized textbooks available or when government-designated or authorized textbooks need supplemental materials.