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Koreaa€™s education system is ranked 2nd out of the 40 countries with the best education systems, according to a global league table published by the Economist Intelligence Unit for London-based education firm Pearson.Korea is behind Finland, and followed by Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.
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PDF VersionPrinciples and general objectives of educationThe objectives of education, under the ideals of Hongik-Ingan, the founding philosopher of Korea, are to help all people perfect their individual characters, develop the self-sustaining ability to attain independent lives, acquire the qualifications of democratic citizens, participate in the makings of a democratic state, and promote the prosperity of all humankind.
Education being a major source for trained manpower, educational policies have changed in accordance with the types of human resources demanded by a changing economy.In the 1950s, when low-level skilled workers were needed in labour-intensive industries, efforts were geared to undertaking a massive-scale literacy campaign to produce a manual workforce.
In the 1960s, skilled workers were in great demand for light industries, and the focus was shifted to expanding vocational education at the secondary school level. As the importance of heavy industries grew in the 1970s, technicians who could deal with complex modern manufacturing processes were in demand. In the 1980s, economic competitiveness based on high-level technology and information industries became fierce and this challenge incited the Korean government to strengthen research and education in basic science and technology.
Korea expanded and universalized elementary education followed by secondary education, and only after achieving this, shifted its emphasis to the expansion of higher education. When the Fifth Republic came into existence, educational reform became part of a broad system of efforts to build an institutional basis for reforms. The Presidential Commission for Education Reform  was established in 1985 and was in place until 1987 preparing a national plan for educational reform. In the Sixth Republic (1987-1992), the Commission was renamed the Presidential Advisory Committee on Education Policy.
In Kim Young Sam’s civil government, the name changed again to the Presidential Commission on Education Reform (PCER). Reform proposals announced by these reform institutions have met with varying degrees of success in implementation. The most recognized and substantial changes were brought about by the current PCER, and the changes are best characterized by their accordance with the overall social and political atmosphere of the country, which is directed towards democracy, autonomy, openness, globalization, information and technology.Some of the foundation work to build a democratic scheme of education was laid in the early 1990s. New laws for the promotion of local autonomy were legislated in 1991, and district offices and boards of education were inaugurated at the municipal and provincial level, setting a new benchmark in the democratization and localization of education. All these efforts for democratization, autonomy, localization and globalization, which are the foundation values and perspectives that govern every sphere of the life of contemporary Koreans, were consummated in the recent educational reform proposals announced by the PCER. A laissez-faire approach to the management of academic affairs in the universities and the establishment of school-based educational management are some of the measures reflecting the current social and political mood.The government undertook a major education reform through the Presidential Commission on Education Reform (PCER) established in 1992. The reform was directed to restructuring the existing educational system into a new one, in which people are ensured access to education without constraints of space and time on a lifelong basis. The profile of the person to be produced through this new education system includes such characteristics as co-operation (i.e. It has been increasingly recognized that knowledge and information among all the resources possessed by humankind are the crucial ones that will determine future survival and prosperity of each country.
In order to change the existing paradigm of education system from something that had been suitable for the mass manufacturing system and the labor-intensive industrial structure of the past to the one that meets the requirement of the future society, overall restructuring in the entire educational sphere has been carried out. All private corporations should endeavor to make good use of human resources and will be guaranteed to have opportunities to secure high quality labor force. The state will secure the capacity to be a leader in the world history in spiritual as well as material terms by securing abundant pool of high quality human resource.Laws and other basic regulations concerning educationThe Constitution is the basic source of all educational laws and regulations. The Education Law of 1949, which had been comprehensive in its nature, was divided in 1998 into the Fundamental Law of Education, the Elementary and Secondary Education Law (which has undergone 38 partial revisions since 1949), and the Higher Education Law, thereby further specializing the legal structure pertaining to each school level.This Fundamental Law of Education defines the basic elements in education such as the goal and ideology of education, persons in charge of education provision, and promotion of education. It also specifically puts forward the basic structure for a lifelong education system and fully guarantees the educational rights of all citizens. The Elementary and Secondary Education Law enables diverse forms of education from kindergarten to upper secondary school level. For instance, legal provisions were made for the right to select secondary school, expansion of specialized high schools, comprehensive management of elementary and secondary schools, and flexible application of school entrance age. And the regulations pertaining to the School Council, which had belonged to the Law of Local Governance of Education, were transferred to this Law in further specification. Under the Higher Education Law regulations for seeking autonomy, diversity, and specialization at the higher education level and for enhancing accountability of higher education institutions were extensively strengthened. In order to facilitate identifying gifted children who will play a vital role in national development, the Law for Promoting Education of the Gifted was promulgated in 2000. The Fundamental Law of Human Resource Development was enacted on August 2002 and is designed to elevate the quality of life and strengthen national competitiveness.
It prescribes the formulation, the general management, and the regulation of policies on human resources development to ensure its effective promotionWith the introduction of local governance in general administration, the realm of education also showed efforts to meet the coming age of local autonomy and to maximize educational development in the provinces.
Core of those efforts was the historic promulgation of the Law for Local Educational Governance, which has opened up the era of full-scale local autonomy in educational governance. It recognizes that children, as valuable young members of a society, deserve care, so that they may grow healthy and sound, physically and psychologically. They should be provided with an environment and facilities for study and play, be exempted from exploitation and be fed, treated, assisted, reformed, and cared for to grow as sound human beings. It recognizes that teachers are the key determining agency who directs the education of the country. It urges teachers to take pride in their profession and to be conscious of their roles and responsibilities in guiding young minds. The Charter emphasizes that tender, loving care and respect for individual children is the teachers’ primary role.
Continuous efforts to improve teachers’ professionalism and their presentation as role models in the society are also emphasized.
It makes policies with regard to education at the national level, and assimilates and adjusts them in co-operation with other Ministries. It is also responsible for implementing educational policies, and guiding regional educational bodies. The reorganized Ministry of Education consists of two offices (School Policy Office; Planning and Management Office), four bureaus and 33 divisions.
In addition, there are the International Cooperation and Information Technology Office and Inspector General’s Office.
In March 2004, the Ministry has been restructured and the Human Resources Policy Bureau, the Continuing Vocational Education Bureau, and the University Support Bureau have been reorganized into the Human Resources Planning Bureau, the Human Resources Development Bureau, and the Human Resources Management Bureau respectively. Features of the restructuring include merging the responsibilities regarding higher education policies under a single bureau with an all-inclusive policy for universities, open universities, and junior colleges. Policies related to supply and demand for human resources, academic research assistance, industry-academia collaboration, and vocational education will all be linked in order to ensure efficient implementation and development.The Korea Education and Research Information Service (KERIS) was established in 1999. The Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE) was established in January 1998 as a government-funded educational research institution. KICE’s missions are to improve school education through comprehensive and systematic research and development of school curriculum, textbooks, instructional materials and educational evaluations, and to provide schools with practical and exemplary programs and services for quality education. The Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training was established in 1997. Its functions are to research on technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and human resources development, and support government policies to develop the vocational capacity of citizens through TVET as part of lifelong learning. A Local Office of Education, the core unit of the autonomous educational administration system, has been established in each municipality and province to guarantee independence and individuality in regional education.
Since 1997, sixteen municipal or provincial and 195 county offices of education have been established and are in operation.To implement local educational autonomy, each municipal or provincial office of education has a superintendent as an executive body and a board of education as a decision-making body which makes major decisions on important education matters. The superintendent is in charge of making rules and regulations regarding education, budget planning, producing account reports, managing the school curriculum, school facilities and equipment, and financing related commissions, etc.As a decision-making body, each board of education decides important educational matters, which then must be approved by the local councils.
The total number of members of the board of education in the metropolitan areas is decided by the number of their autonomous districts, with a minimum number of seven.
Each committee is composed of seven to fifteen members, of which 40-50% are parents, 30-40% school staff including the principal, and 10-30% community members.

Representatives of parents and teachers are recommended for selection by direct election in their groups. Community representatives are recommended by the principal and representatives of the parents and teachers. The term of a representative is one year, and can be renewed three times.The School Council deliberates on school management matters such as the school budget, improvement of the curriculum, the management of extra-curricular activities, co-operative activities between school and community, student welfare, etc.
The council also advises the school principal on matters related to everyday school operation.As a Presidential consultative body, the Presidential Commission on Education and Human Resource Policy was established according to the Presidential Decree No. The Commission had the mission of providing advice and suggestions as the President requires on matters pertaining to education and human resource development to bring up talented people who can cater to the knowledge and information society in the twenty-first century.
It also provided visions on education and human resource policies by developing, reviewing and evaluating them in cooperation with experts from each sector of the society. The Presidential Commission on Education Innovation was created by Presidential Order No.18001 of June 2003.
Its main function is to advise the President on setting the direction for policies on education and human resource development, developing major education policies, promoting innovation within the education system, managing educational finance and welfare, and reviewing issues of educational innovation. The Advisory Council for Education and Human Resources Development Policy was inaugurated in March 2001 to examine the education and human resources development policies of the government and important matters concerning educational development.
The MOFE designs comprehensive plans for economic and social development, and carries out training programmes for manpower development.
The MOST establishes and enforces policies related to scientific and technical development and manages various research institutions.
The Korean Manpower Agency, a subsidiary training centre of MOL, provides the public with different levels of vocational and technical training.As a non-governmental organization, the Korean Council for University Education (KCUE), established in 1982, is an important body for enhancing autonomy and accountability in the management of higher education.
It is concerned with issues such as professional research in the management of universities and the university admission system, formulation of policies to provide financial aid to universities, development and dissemination of curricula and teaching methods, and conducting institutional and programme evaluation. The Korean Council for College Education (KCCE) aims at enhancing autonomy and solidarity of colleges and promoting their sound development through inter-institutional cooperation in management and research, as well as making policy recommendations to the government.At the secondary level, the Korean Association of Private Secondary School Principals has represented private school education. The function of the Association is to muster the resources of individual members, recommend policy measures to the Ministry of Education and to the Board of Education, and conduct research on the development of private school education, etc.Recently, many NGOs, such as parental associations and voluntary citizen groups, have emerged to monitor the educational policy implementation process. Some members of these NGOs also participate in the process of educational policy making.Structure and organization of the education systemThe current education system in the Republic of Korea was established according to the Education Law enacted in 1949.
The school system is a linear one, consisting of six years of elementary school, three years of middle school, three years of high school and four years of college or university.
Standard instructional time is three hours per day, but in reality kindergartens tend to offer classes for four or more hours everyday, 180 days per year.
Although early childhood education has shown a noticeable growth since the 1980s, the enrolment rate is still low (45% of 5-year-olds in 1997). Many kindergarten-aged children are attending various private institutions or day-care centres that are under the control of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.Primary educationElementary education is free and compulsory.
At the age of 6, children are informed by the residence authority that they should apply for schooling.
In contrast to the low enrolment rate when the nation was founded, the current rate is almost 100%. Once children enter elementary school, they automatically advance to the next grade each year.
Elementary education lasts six years.Secondary educationMiddle school education is compulsory and partially free.
At present, thirty city areas and forty rural areas are specified as middle school compulsory education areas. Elementary school graduates are assigned to schools in their residential area through a random method. Middle school graduates are provided with an option for two tracks: general academic high school and vocational high school.
Those who are admitted to a vocational high school cannot transfer to a general academic high school. Vocational high schools are divided into agricultural, technical, commercial, and fishery schools. There are also vocational schools called comprehensive schools, which offer both general and vocational programmes.The admission procedure to high schools in equalized areas follows certain steps. Using a random assignment method, middle school graduates are assigned to academic public or private high schools.
After the assessment for vocational high schools is completed, middle school graduates who opt for academic high schools submit an application through their schools to the Provincial Offices of Education. Following an examination by the local offices of education, a computerized programme assigns students to different high schools through a random method.
Therefore, the admission of applicants is upon the high schools, according to their own selection criteria.In addition, special high schools have been established for science, arts, foreign languages and physical education. In order to identify the scientifically gifted at an early age and to provide them with specialized educational programmes, the Ministry of Education founded the Kyonggi Science High School in 1983, and fifteen science high schools were in existence as of 1996. These schools select their students through different appraisal procedures and are allowed to do so before the screening for vocational high schools begins. To be eligible for entrance into a science high school, the applicants should be placed within the top 3% of students in school achievement in their second year and the first semester of the third year of middle school.
There are fourteen foreign language high schools, sixteen arts high schools, and thirteen athletic middle and high schools.
The second semester extends from the beginning of September to the end of February.The financing of educationEducation financing in the Republic of Korea can be analyzed on the basis of its source and distribution mechanisms. Grants from the central government and tuition and fees from students and parents are the major sources for financing education.
About 84% of the Ministry of Education’s budget was transferred to local governments (provincial offices of education) in 1995 as grants on a lump-sum basis. Local governments distribute them to high schools and the county offices of education, which in turn distribute them to elementary and middle schools. In principle, each provincial office of education has its own distribution mechanism, such as unit cost per school and per classroom.In the funding structure of educational finance the roles of the government and school juridical persons have been relatively limited compared with other developed countries, although their portions of direct educational expenditure have increased recently.
It also points to an inefficient use of the available national resources, the heavy financial burden on parents and an aggravation of inequality in the social structure.The budget of the Ministry of Education consists of general and special accounts. The former includes current operational costs, grants for local education, and subsidies to national educational institutions and support organizations.
The latter includes special accounts for: (i) transfer for local education, (ii) improvement of the educational environment, (iii) rural development tax management, etc. By law, the central government is obligated to bear the cost of the remuneration of teachers in compulsory education and recurrent expenses for local education, which account for 11.8% of the internal tax revenue. In addition, the central government transfers revenue from the education tax to local education authorities. While the central government distributes local education grants according to the estimated differences between standard fiscal demand and standard fiscal revenue of each local government, the education tax is distributed on the basis of the population in the province.The major source of financing private education is tuition and fees from students. The proportion of private school students is particularly pronounced in high schools and colleges. The government enacted a law exempting private schools from taxation in the acquisition and sales of properties related to school education and is providing subsidies to cover shortages of remuneration of teachers and operational costs. The differences between the two sets of ratios tell us that the portion of out-of-school expenditure in direct educational expenditure is more or less 50%. The ratio of government expenditure on education to GNP also has kept increasing.Direct expenditure on education consists of in-school expenditure (which corresponds to what the OECD defines as public educational expenditure plus tuition and fees) and out-of-school expenditure (which corresponds to what the OECD defines as private educational expenditure minus tuition and fees). In-school expenditure covers the expenses for the operation and construction of schools, which are financed by students and parents, central and local governments, and school juridical persons (private foundations). Of in-school expenditure, the portion assumed by students was relatively large, especially until the mid-1980s.

It is interesting to note that in-school expenditure for kindergartens have steadily increased since 1977 even though the actual expenditure level has been relatively small.
Considering the importance of a high level of technology and science in our future society as a result of the structural change in industries and occupations, Korea needs to adjust its distribution structure of educational expenditure by increasing the share allocated to higher education.In sum, governments (central and local) and students (parents) have played a key role in providing financial resources to school education. Such a measure is aimed at deterring the inequity which results when students from wealthier families seek private tutoring for their children to ensure that they are able to pass the various entrance examinations and do well in school. With the measure proposed, quality tutoring will be available to any student in need, thus lessening the financial burden now imposed on families.The educational processThe Education Law articulates the goals and objectives of education at each school level. Since the Republic of Korea was established, there have been six curriculum revisions, the last in 1992. In its proposal for a basic scheme of curricular reform, the Special Committee on Curriculum under the Educational Reform Committee recommended to develop a new curriculum. The Ministry of Education, then, commissioned the Korea Educational Development Institute (KEDI) to undertake basic and general research for curricular reform at the elementary and secondary school levels in March 1996. By conducting the research commissioned by the Ministry, the KEDI has developed a measure to improve elementary and secondary school curricula that would help the basic scheme of the Educational Reform Committee to be harmoniously realized.In the process, designing and policy-making for the national curriculum have been conducted in an organic inter-connection between different parties. Curriculum-related policies were mainly decided by relevant departments at the Ministry of Education, while curricular design was undertaken primarily by the Curricular Revision Research and Development (R&D) Group, mainly staffed by KEDI personnel. Among them, the first R&D team played the role of the overseeing team in charge of improving the systemic and structural dimensions of elementary and secondary school curricula. The Research Committee for Curricular Revision was formed for the purpose of reviewing and consulting the process and outcome of researching and developing the curriculum together with the Curricular Revision Research and Development Group.With the two organizations as the main basis, Ministry personnel, KEDI researchers, basic research team leader, other curriculum experts, school teachers, and subject specialists gathered together and made decisions on the general scheme and researching and developing of the curriculum for each school subjects. During the entire process of the revision, conferences, seminars, and hearings for formulating and reviewing the overall scheme took place over eighty times. The entire number of the people who participated in revising the overall scheme turned out to be 4,598.
Particularly in the public hearing for reviewing the overall scheme of the new curriculum, held in August, 1996, approximately 800 individuals participated and presented their opinions on controversial issues.After the public hearing, review of the proposal for the overall scheme of the new curriculum began in November of the same year, and the revision plan was confirmed in February 1997. Based upon the confirmed scheme and the criteria for distributing yearly teaching hours, basic research for curricular revision of subjects and development of an implementation plan for the revised curriculum have been commissioned to KEDI, Korea National University of Education, Taegu University, Seoul National University, Sungkyunkwan University, and Inchon National University of Education. In August of the same year, review of the subject curricula was conducted, and the Seventh Elementary and Secondary School Curriculum was announced on 30 December 1997, after undergoing several occasions of reviewing and correcting.Since the newly proposed curriculum was a product of great change in perspective which went beyond the traditional framework of the extant curriculum, the Educational Reform Committee undertook assessment of the basic framework for the national curriculum through broad-ranged public hearings in order to test practical applicability of the ideas of the new curriculum.
Overall, 14,322 experts, teachers, teaching staff, and the parents of students participated yearly. The curricular subjects are Korean language, morals, social studies, mathematics, science, practical studies (technical studies or home economics), physical education, music, fine art, and foreign language (English). The first and second grades’ integrated subjects (right life, wise life, happy life, and We the first graders) have been formed based on perspective of integrating different subjects since the Fourth Curriculum era. A total of 1,041 textbooks addressing changes in curricular subjects have been developed primarily by the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE), colleges of education, and teachers’ colleges, and a variety of instructional and learning materials have been distributed.
Also, standard for criterion-referenced assessment for each revised curricular subject has been consecutively developed, as a quality-control mechanism for the curricular subjects.
Ready dissemination of the data for the Curriculum and free inter-communication among relevant parties were sought by building a database for the Curriculum and constructing an on-line network connecting the Ministry of Education, Municipal and Provincial Offices of Education and their affiliated research institutes, national-level research institutes such as the KICE, and schools.Efforts to decentralize the curriculum decision-making brought about some positive consequences, but not as many as were intended. For example, the national curriculum allows each high school to come up with its very own set of courses and take into consideration the variable needs, but ten out of sixteen provincial offices of education presented almost the same guidelines as those in the national curriculum and did not specify the courses to be offered, thus showing no major difference among regions.Under the current system, there is an overlap in the role between the Ministry of Education, the Municipal and Provincial Offices of Education (MPOEs), and schools in regard to developing and implementing the curriculum. In addition, the MPOEs are supposed to formulate guidelines for curriculum organization and implementation without selecting any type of subject content.
Furthermore, the MPOEs construct guidelines for curriculum organization and implementation at each school but not by school size (large, medium, small) although medium and small schools have difficulty in organizing and implementing curriculum due to a lack of teachers, budget, and facilities.Pre-primary education (Kindergarten)Kindergarten aims at providing an appropriate environment for the nurturing of children and promoting the wholesome development of the child throughout varied activities with diversified content and methods of instruction. The kindergarten curriculum was set at the national level by the Education Law 146 and 147 in 1992.
Although the government has developed and disseminated kindergarten curriculum guidelines and teaching-learning materials, the municipal and provincial educational authorities determine the structure and operation of individual kindergarten curricula in detail. Kindergartens used to provide a half-day program, but now many of them extended the programs to last for 5-8 hours or more. The size of childcare facilities is rather small as 39.8% of them have less than 20 children. In the same year, 972,391 children (20.7% of the children at ages 0-5) received the care service.
More children, up to the age 4, attend childcare centers than kindergartens, whereas more children attend kindergartens than childcare centers at age 5.The turning point of systemic development of childcare facilities was 1991 when the Child Care Act was adopted.
After proclamation of this law, childcare facilities have attempted to perform quality care and educational functions as well as simple babysitting service. Although each of the two ECCE systems has followed its own path and development, the goals of the two systems are now merging into one, that is, both education and care.
However, in the case of national or public kindergartens, 56.3% of the teachers are graduates of 4-year colleges and universities while 80% of the private kindergarten teachers are graduates of 2- to 3- year colleges.
This difference in educational levels of these two groups of teachers is due to different recruitment methods; national or public kindergarten teachers are selected through rigorous national examination, whereas private kindergarten teachers are not required to pass the examination or to have 4-year college degrees. Thus, employers of private kindergartens prefer to hire 2- to 3- year college graduates who are less of a financial responsibility for them. 55.1% of kindergarten teachers have less than 5 years of work experience, and few have more than 20 years of work experience.
This indicates still very high proportion of college graduates as the combined rate is over 75%. There has been a slight delay to the implementation of the policy due to financial circumstances, but the government intends to achieve complete free education for all 5-year-old children by 2010.Primary educationPrimary education is provided in elementary schools for children aged 6-11 (Grades I-VI). The general objective of elementary education is to cultivate healthy, self-reliant, creative and morally sound Korean individuals who will be leaders in the twenty-first century. The heavy concentration of the school population in urban areas, however, has brought about overcrowded classes and oversized schools in cities. Accordingly, the government levied an education tax to secure financial resources for a better educational environment and to improve teachers’ socio-economic status. Oversized schools were divided into smaller ones and the double-shift system of classes has almost disappeared.
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, in 2004 the gross enrolment ratio was 105% and the net enrolment ratio was 100%.Once children enter elementary school, they automatically advance to the next grade each year. The dropout rate at primary school is near zero and thus is not even reported.Beginning in 1996, an early attendance system which allows admission of 5-20% of 5-year-olds, provided that they prove the acquisition of basic learning abilities was implemented. Each region has a different rate of extra admission according to the capacity of its elementary schools. For example, Kyungki Province can admit 5% of 5-year-olds, whereas Chulla Province can admit 20%. In addition to the early attendance system, an accelerated grade advancement system was introduced which allows a bright child to skip a grade and advance to the next grade level. Middle school education puts emphasis on helping students acquire basic abilities essential for learning and everyday living, and to help students become democratic citizenship through a successful elementary school education.
The yearly lesson timetable is shown in the table below:Middle school graduates or those with an equivalent academic background may enter high schools. The period of study is three years and there are several kinds of high schools such as general high schools, vocational high schools, science high schools, visual and performing arts high schools and foreign language high schools. One study unit equals the amount of school learning undertaken by a fifty-minute instruction period per week for one semester (equivalent to seventeen weeks).High school education puts an emphasis on helping students acquire the abilities essential for their chosen career paths and develop the qualifications of world-class citizens through a successful middle school education.

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