Kindergarten was introduced in Korea by the Japanese in 1897, which was Busan Kindergarten. Gyeongseong Kindergarten and Ewha Kindergarten were opened in 1913 and 1914, respectively. Since the affiliated elementary school kindergarten began in 1976, we have placed public early childhood education at the forefront. As of 2021, there are 8,659 kindergartens in total: 3 national, 5,058 public, and 3,598 private kindergartens—which serve 582,572 kids countrywide.
The enrollment rate is constantly on the rise (30.9% in 2005 → 40.2% in 2010 → 49.0% in 2016 → 48.9% in 2021).
Based on the Education Act of 1949, the government developed kindergarten policies. Following that, the Kindergarten Facility Standards Code (1962), the National Kindergarten Curriculum (1969), and the Early Childhood Education Promotion Act (1982) were formulated. In 1992, the Education Act and the Early Childhood Education Promotion Act were amended to allow 3-year-olds to be admitted to kindergarten. The Early Childhood Education Act was enacted in 2004 and the relevant ordinance, in 2005.
Built in 1969, the National Kindergarten Curriculum has been reformed 11 times. In 2012, the curriculum got a new name 'Nuri Curriculum' targeting 5-year-old children in kindergartens and daycares. In 2013, the Nuri Curriculum was expanded to cover children ages 3 to 5. The Nuri Curriculum encompasses five major areas: physical exercise and health, communication, social relationship, art experience, and nature exploration. The 2019 version emphasizes diversity and autonomy within on-site curricula, with the aim of helping young children foster a balanced growth for the mind and body through play and form the foundation of positive character and democratic citizenship.
With the implementation of the Nuri Curriculum, because subsidies are given to all families with children irrespective of household income levels, early childhood budgets rose remarkably. In 2016, early childhood budgets, including education expenses and the Nuri Curriculum, were 4 trillion won.
A bill to provide early education for free was proposed in 1995 and was passed in 1998. In 2012, the Early Childhood Education Act was amended and lowered the age limit for free education to children at the age of 3. With the first implementation of the Nuri Curriculum in 2012, the government supported educational costs for all 5-year-olds. As the Nuri Curriculum was expanded to 3- to 4-year-olds in 2013, children age 3 to 5 years became recipients.
Efforts to ensure high-quality early childhood education lead not only to an increase in enrollment and higher budgeting but also to the introduction of a full-day kindergarten. For advancing equity in early childhood education, the Nuri Curriculum began to be conducted among 5-year-olds in 2012 and among 3- to 4-year-olds in 2013, benefiting both kindergarten and nursery children. The Nuri Curriculum facilitates an environment conducive to early learning. We endeavor to alleviate the service gap between kindergartens and daycare centers and promote integrated programs, thereby accomplishing greater levels of parental satisfaction.