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South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, is a sovereign country located in the
southern part of the Korean Peninsula. The name "Korea" is derived from Goryeo, a
dynasty which ruled in the Middle Ages.
Dialing code: 82
President: Park Geun-hye
Population: 49.78 million (2011) World Bank
Gross domestic product: 1.116 trillion USD
(2011) World Bank
republic, Presidential system, Unitary state
Currency: Won (1won= 0.039peso)
Division of korea
The division of Korea into South Korea and North
Korea stems from the 1945 Allied victory in World
War II, ending the Empire of Japan's 35year colonial rule of Korea. The United States and
the Soviet Union agreed to temporarily occupy the
country as a trusteeship with the zone of control
demarcated along the 38th parallel. The purpose of this trusteeship was to establish a
Korean provisional government which would become "free and independent in due
Though elections were scheduled, the Soviet Union refused to cooperate with United
Nations plans to hold general and free elections in the two Korean zones, and as a
result, a Communist state was permanently established under Soviet auspices in the
north and a pro-Western state was set up in the south. The two superpowers backed
different leaders and two states were effectively established, each of which claimed
sovereignty over the whole Korean peninsula.
The Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953, left the two Koreas separated by
the Korean Demilitarized Zone through the Cold War and into the 2010s. The 2000s
saw some improved relations between the two sides, overseen in the south by liberal
governments, who were more amicable towards the north than previous governments
had been. These changes were largely reversed under conservative South Korean
president Lee Myung-bak who opposed the north's continued development of nuclear
South Korea occupies the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula, which extends
some 1,100 km (680 mi) from the Asian mainland. This mountainous peninsula is
flanked by the Yellow Sea to the west, and Sea of Japan (East Sea) to the east. Its
southern tip lies on the Korea Strait and the East China Sea.
The country, including all its islands, lies between latitudes 33° and 39°N, and
longitudes 124° and 130°E. Its total area is 100,032 square kilometres
(38,622.57 sq mi).
South Korea can be divided into four general regions: an eastern region of high
mountain ranges and narrow coastal plains; a western region of broad coastal plains,
river basins, and rolling hills; a southwestern region of mountains and valleys; and a
southeastern region dominated by the broad basin of the Nakdong River.
South Korea's terrain is mostly mountainous, most of which is not arable. Lowlands,
located primarily in the west and southeast, make up only 30% of the total land area.
About three thousand islands, mostly small and uninhabited, lie off the western and
southern coasts of South Korea. Jeju-do is about 100 kilometres (about 60 mi) off the
southern coast of South Korea. It is the country's largest island, with an area of 1,845
square kilometres (712 sq mi). Jeju is also the site of South Korea's highest point:
Hallasan, an extinct volcano, reaches 1,950 meters (6,398 ft) above sea level. The
easternmost islands of South Korea include Ulleungdo and Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo),
while Marado and Socotra Rock are the southernmost islands of South Korea.
South Korea has 20 national parks and popular nature places like the Boseong Tea
Fields, Suncheon Bay Ecological Park, and the first national park of Jirisan.
South Korea is noted for its population density, which is 487 per square kilometer, more
than 10 times the global average. Most South Koreans live in urban areas, because of
rapid migration from the countryside during the country's quick economic expansion in
the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The capital city of Seoul is also the country's largest city
and chief industrial center. According to the 2005 census, Seoul had a population of 9.8
million inhabitants. The Seoul National Capital Area has 24.5 million inhabitants making
it the world's second largest metropolitan area and easily the most densely populated
city in the OECD. Other major cities include Busan (3.5 million), Incheon (2.5 million),
Daegu (2.5 million), Daejeon (1.4 million), Gwangju (1.4 million) and Ulsan (1.1 million).
The population has also been shaped by international migration. After World War II and
the division of the Korean Peninsula, about four million people from North Korea
crossed the border to South Korea. This trend of net entry reversed over the next 40
years because of emigration, especially to the United States and Canada. South
Korea's total population in 1955 was 21.5 million, and today it is roughly 50,062,000.
South Korea is one of the most ethnically homogeneous societies in the world, with
more than 99% of inhabitants having Korean ethnicity. Koreans call their society
단일민족국가, Dan-ilminjokgukga, "the single race society".
The percentage of foreign nationals has been growing rapidly.As of 2009, South Korea
had 1,106,884 foreign residents, 2.7% of the population; however, more than half of
them are ethnic Koreans with a foreign citizenship. For example, migrants from China
(PRC) make up 56.5% of foreign nationals, but approximately 30% of the Chinese
citizens in Korea are Joseonjok (조선족 in Korean), PRC citizens of Korean ethnicity.
Regardless of the ethnicity, there are 28,500 US military personnel serving in South
Korea for one year of unaccompanied tour, according to the Korea National Statistical
Office. In addition, about 43,000 English teachers from English-speaking countries
reside temporarily in Korea. Currently, South Korea has one of the highest rate of
growth of foreign born population, with about 30,000 foreign born residences obtaining
South Korean citizenship every year since 2010.
South Korea's birthrate was the world's lowest in 2009. If this continues, its population is
expected to decrease by 13% to 42.3 million in 2050. South Korea's annual birthrate is
approximately 9 births per 1000 people. However, the birthrate has increased by 5.7%
in 2010 and Korea no longer has the world's lowest birthrate. According to a 2011 report
from ChosunIlbo, South Korea's total fertility rate (1.23 children born per woman) is
higher than those of Taiwan (1.15) and Japan (1.21). The average life expectancy in
2008 was 79.10 years which is 34th in the world.
About seventy million people speak Korean. Most live on the peninsula, but more than
five million live across the globe. Korean is considered part of the Tungusic branch of
the Altaic group of the Ural-Altaic language family. It also has a close relationship to
Japanese in general structure, grammar, and vocabulary. The form of Korean spoken
around Seoul is regarded as standard. Major dialects differ mainly in accent and
intonation. Except for old Cheju dialect, all are mutually intelligible.
Koreans value their native tongue and their alphabet, han'gul , which was invented in
the mid-fifteenth century. Until then, Korea's aristocratic society used Chinese
characters, while the government and people used the writing system known as idu (a
transcription system of Korean words invented in the eighth century by Silla scholars
using Chinese characters). The Chinese writing system requires a basic knowledge of
several thousand characters. Commoners who did not have the time or means to
master Chinese could not read or write. Moreover, it is difficult to express spoken
Korean in Chinese characters.
Education in South Korea is viewed as being crucial for success and competition is,
consequently, very heated and fierce. A central administration oversees the process for
the education of children from kindergarten to the third and final year of high
school. Mathematics, Science, Korean, English, and social studies are generally
considered to be the most important subjects. Normally physical education is not
considered important as it is not recognised, by the generally academic elitist South
Korean populace, as education and therefore many schools lack high-quality
gymnasiums and varsity athletics. South Korea was the first country in the world to
provide high-speed internet access to all primary, junior, and high schools.
Although South Korean students often rank highly on international comparative
assessments when compared to students of most Western education systems, the
South Korean education system is criticised for emphasising too much upon passive
learning and memorisation. The South Korean education system is rather notably strict
and overly structured as compared to its counterparts in most Western societies. Also,
the prevalence of non-school for-profit private institutes such as academies or cramschools (Hagwon [학원]), which emphasise too much on passive memorisation, as
opposed to conceptual understanding, in students are criticised as a major social
Ages vary (usually four years,
referred to as Freshman,
Tertiary education (College or University)
School Ladder System (6-3-3-4)
The main track of the system includes six years of elementary school, three years of
middle school, three years of high school, and four years of university education. The
higher education institutions consist of graduate schools, four-year universities, and two
or three-year junior colleges.
The school ladder system has undergone several changes in the past. The first system
proposed by the Education Law promulgated in 1949 followed a 6-4-2-4 pattern,
including six years of elementary school, four years of middle school, and dual tracks at
the high school level, that is, two and four-year tracks.
In the first revision of the school ladder system that shortly followed (1950), the high
school level was unified in a single three-year track, and the number of school years for
teachers’ college was lengthened to three years.
The second revision in 1951 lowered the number of the middle school years to three
years. When the Fifth Republic was inaugurated in 1981, the duration of school years
for colleges of education was raised from two to four years. The next year, the Open
University was founded. In sum, its having undergone only partial revisions and
reinforcements, Korea’s school ladder system has preserved the original form of its
single-track system adopted at the time of the promulgation of the Education Law.
However, recent international trends in the field of education show continued expansion
of pre-school education and lifelong education along with universalization of elementary
and secondary education and mass access to higher education; therefore, there have
arisen increasing demands to change the school ladder system to be more flexible.
The school year is divided into two semesters, the first of which begins in the beginning
of March and ends in mid-July, the second of which begins in late August and ends in
mid-February. The schedules are not uniformly standardized and vary from school to
school. Most South Korean middle schools and high schools have school uniforms,
modeled on western-style uniforms. Boys' uniform usually consists of trousers and white
shirts, and girls wear skirts and white shirts (this only applies in middle schools and high
School System in Korea
Although preschool education is not yet compulsory, its importance has been
increasingly recognized in recent years. As recently as 1980, there were only 901
kindergartens across the nation but this number has increased to 8,343 as of 2002. The
government has carried out a nationwide project to subsidize kindergarten tuition for
children from low-income families since September 1999, providing underprivileged
children increased opportunities for preschool education and thereby establishing a
more equitable educational environment. The program was expanded to provide free
education for 20 percent of five-year-old children from 2002.
Elementary schooling is compulsory with an enrollment rate of 100 percent. Three more
years of compulsory education for the middle school course was implemented
nationwide in 2002. The average number of students per teacher in elementary schools
stood at 58.8 in 1960. This figure has been reduced to 28.1 in 2002. The average
number of students in a class was 34.9 in 2002. Four-year educational study at a
teacher’s university is required of an elementary school teacher. Upon completion of
elementary school, children in the twelve to fourteen age group enter the middle school
system for seventh to ninth grade courses. The student-teacher ratio for middle schools
in 2002 was 19.3, while the comparable figure for 1970 was 42.3.
There are two types of high schools in the Republic of Korea, general and vocational.
Applicants for vocational high schools (covering agriculture, engineering, business and
maritime studies) have a choice of schools and are admitted through examinations
administered by each school. The curriculum at vocational high schools is usually 40-60
percent general courses with the remainder being vocational courses. As of 2002, there
were 741 vocational high schools with 535,363 students. Among general high schools,
there are several specialized high schools in the areas of arts, physical education,
science, and foreign languages. The goal of these schools is to provide appropriate
education for students with special ability in certain fields. Courses at general high
schools tend to center around preparations for entering universities. As of 2002, there
were 1,254 general high schools with 1.22 million students. Combining the two types of
high school together, the ratio of middle school graduates advancing to high school was
99.5 in 2002.
The curriculum, revised in 1997, introduces ten basic common subjects, individual
projects and special activities that cover the ten years from the first year of elementary
school through to the first year of high school. It also includes new elective subjects for
the final two years of high school that are designed to provide students greater direction
in discovering their aptitudes and more choices in choosing their future careers. The
new curricula were put into effect, beginning with kindergartens, in 2000. The
introduction of the curricula in elementary schools started with the first and second
grades in 2000, followed by the 3rd and 4th grades in 2001 and by the 5th and 6th
grades in 2002. In middle schools and high schools, it was applied to first year students
and freshmen in 2001 and 2002 respectively.
There are several different types of institutions of higher learning in the Republic of
Korea: colleges and universities with four-year undergraduate programs (six years for
medical and dental colleges), four-year teacher’s universities, two-year junior vocational
colleges, an air and correspondence university, open universities, and miscellaneous
schools of collegiate status with two- or four-year programs such as nursing schools
and theological seminaries. As of 2002, there were 358 institutions of higher learning in
Korea, with a total of 3.31 million students and 59,750 faculty members. Colleges and
universities in Korea operate under strict enrollment limits. The eligibility of each
applicant is determined by the student’s high school records and national standardized
test results. In addition to this, certain colleges and universities require an additional
entrance essay test administered by each institution since 1996. In 2002, the ratio of
high school graduates who advanced to institutions of higher learning was 87 percent
for general high schools and 49.8 percent for vocational high schools.
10 Benefits of Teaching in South Korea
Return Airfare: All teachers can expect to receive free return airfare to and from South
Korea unless alternative agreements are made between the teacher and school. Some
schools offer pre-paid flights and others offer an airfare reimbursement.
Furnished Apartment: Schools in Korea typically provide single studio apartments for
their western staff. These apartments are free of charge to the teacher, usually within
walking distance of the school and tend to come with the following furnishings; fridge,
bed (possible linens), TV, phone, table, chairs, range for cooking and some cooking and
eating utensils. Larger cities such as Seoul and Busan tend to offer the smallest
apartments. Some apartments may be equipped with their own washing machine and/or
an air conditioner.
Health Coverage: Schools in Korea are required (by Korean law) to cover 50% of their
western staff's health coverage. The remaining 50% of the coverage is deducted from
the teacher's monthly salary which usually equates to a minimal 1.5% - 2.5%.
Competitive Salary: Salaries vary based on qualifications and desired working locations.
Generally speaking, teachers in Korea can expect to earn 1.8 million Won to 2.4 million
Won (Currency Converter). Remember: The better schools in desirable locations
typically offer lower salaries then other schools with less desirable working conditions
and locations. Why? The quality schools with good locations have enough applicants to
select from who are willing to work for slightly less in order to gain employment with a
Severance Pay: Most Korean schools provide a severance package to their teachers
who complete the full 12 month contract. The Severance pay (also referred to as "The
Limited Taxation: Western teachers in Korea can expect to pay only 3% to 5% of their
monthly salary to the Korean Revenue Agency. The amount a teacher pays depends on
the salary the teacher is making. Schools in Korea will deduct these taxes directly from
your monthly salary; therefore, filing tax claims and receipts in Korea is not required.
Note: Public school teachers are exempt from paying income taxes during their first 2
years of employment. In order to request the income tax exemption teachers must
submit a ‘Residency Certificate’ that was issued by the appropriate government office
from their country of citizenship.
Pension Plan: Although Korean schools are required to pay into the Korean National
Pension scheme, many employers fail to do so because there is no government office in
place to monitor or enforce the rule. Please Note: Schools that don't offer the pension
plan tend to offer higher salaries to compensate for the difference. Additionally, just
because a specific school doesn't pay into the scheme does not mean the school itself
is not credible or financially stable; the fact is many established schools with excellent
reputations also fail to pay into the scheme. Schools located in the Seoul metro area
tend to offer the plan more than schools located in other parts of the country. For
teachers who gain employment with schools that provide a pension plan, they can
expect to contribute 4.5% of their monthly salary into the plan. The school will match
this 4.5% each month for a total of 9% entered over the course of your 12 month
contract. The full amount will be reimbursed once you return home. Note: Only
Canadian and American teachers are eligible for the pension refund.
Teaching Materials: Korean schools supply teaching related resources for their staff.
Teaching resources usually include: flashcards, photocopiers, paper, coloring tools,
white boards and/or black boards, shared office computers, English related games, CD
players and English learning CD's, story books, student books, work books and so on.
Each school will provide different resources; therefore, do not expect every school to
have all of the items listed above.
Overtime Pay: Overtime is usually paid out to teachers who work above and beyond
120 teaching hours per month - this is the industry standard. Overtime is based on the
length of the class and the location. Schools in the larger urban areas usually provide
18,000 to 25,000 Won per 50 minute class, and 15,000 to 18,000 Won for classes that
are less than 50 minutes.
Vacation Time: Private school teachers can expect 2 weeks of paid vacation time in
addition to all Korean National Holidays. Public school teachers can expect 4 weeks of
paid vacation time in addition to Korean National holidays.
School for all children between the ages of six and fifteen is free. Senior high schools,
for students aged fifteen to eighteen, do charge tuition fees in order to supplement
government funding, but these fees do not appear burdensome enough to prevent
students from attending. School funding is very centralized, with local school systems
deriving 80% of their revenue from the central Ministry of Education, Science and
Technology (MEST) budget. The local systems are also funded to a much smaller
degree through revenue transferred from local governing bodies, internal assets, locally
issued bonds, school admission fees and tuition. The Metropolitan and Provincial
Offices of Education can spend the money from MEST as they see fit, though it is a
matter of funds being transferred to a lower level of the same overall organization rather
than an intergovernmental transfer of funds. The central ministry directly funds teachers’
salaries in elementary and lower secondary school as well as preschool programs.
Private schools receive a small amount of government funding and subsidies, but are
primarily financed through tuition fees and support from private donors and
organizations. South Korea spends $7,434 per student at all levels of education, as
compared to the OECD average of $8,831. However, this represents 7.6% of South
Korea’s GDP spent on education, as compared to the OECD average of 5.9%. This is
the second-highest percent of GDP spent on education among OECD countries.
The Pressures of the South Korean Education System
According to a recent survey, South Korean children are the least happy in the
developed world – and the reason behind this could be the pressures of the education
system they are subjected to.
We’ve all experienced the stress of exam periods at some point or another. The
cramming, the worrying, the amalgamation of years of hard work and studying
essentially boil down to how well you perform in a few silent hours with an exam paper
or 12. We know how important exams and education are for helping to secure a
successful future, but no culture holds high exam grades and excellent academic
performance in such high regard as South Korea.
Exam times in South Korea are taken so seriously that everyday life for those who
aren’t students is altered. In 2012 road traffic was diverted away from anywhere exams
were taking place and airline agendas were altered all to avoid causing distractions for
those sitting exams. Police cars were also commandeered at the request of students
who ran the risk of arriving late to their exams.
This seems like extreme behaviour to anyone outside South Korea, but it matches the
intensity of the education system currently in place. South Korea is currently topping the
league tables in maths and reading, and is in the top 3 in science, so there is no doubt
that the current educational methods are working – but at what cost?
There is such an astonishingly high level of national interest in education in South Korea
that means a lot of children and teenagers feel pressured at a very young age. Children
as young as primary school age are under stress when it comes to their education as
they all have an understanding that they need to get into a good university in order to
get a good job.
It seems as though the vast majority of students regardless of age have the same goal:
to get into a good university. It is as though South Korean children are programmed,
instead of taught. A lot of children attend hagwons not because public schooling is
insufficient, but because there is an immense pressure to be the best and to achieve the
most. However, these children often come from a higher social class than others, as
41% of students from Seoul who go to Seoul National University come from the 3
richest districts (out of 25) in Seoul. This puts added pressure on those who cannot
afford private education as they now have to compete with those receiving a ‘double
Some Korean parents have said that they only have one or two children because the
cost of education is so high. Private schooling costs are considerably high regardless of
what age the students are, but costs rise as the child gets older. Because getting into a
good university is such a high national priority, many parents will put their child
education as top priority – therefore can only financially support one for two children.
Obama has openly praised South Korea for its education system and the children of
South Korea for their daily hours of dedication to studying, perhaps without fully
understanding the repercussions. South Korean students have very little time for
creative or personal growth as some students study for 12-16 hours a day. Many even
study after compulsory school for ‘self-study’ periods. The exams themselves also lack
creativity, as they rely more on memorisation than on actively engaging with questions.
Schools are controlled and severe due to bureaucracy and pressures created by a
schools desire to maximise a student’s CSAT scores.
The stress of failure or not meeting demands can be too much for some students, and
suicide is not uncommon. South Korea has an extremely high suicide rate, with 40
suicides a day, and intensive education and the need to get into a good university may
be a factor, as there is a big income gap between those who hold a degree and those
who don’t. Their determination to seek and attain the same goal, of entering and
graduating from the best universities may be the cause to their universal unhappiness.
Not going to university may be seen as an act of betrayal by some children because
their parents pay such a high price for their schooling, and 80% of school leavers go on
to attend university. But because graduates outnumber graduate vacancies,
unemployment in South Korea is high, with many choosing unemployment over working
an unskilled job.
However, the problem has been recognised and efforts to reform it have addressed. In
1996, the Korean government introduced a plan to enhance education with ICT in
schools. In 2005, distribution and utilisation of ICT in classrooms began. The plan is to
move from uniform and standardised learning, to a more creative and diversified
approach. Instead of working as a single student, a more co-operative method to share
ideas is being put in place. The passivity of the old way of learning is being replaced by
active learning through ICT.
In the past, a strong student was one who could reproduce what they had learned by
precisely duplicating it in a test. But future skills will require not just a good memory, but
interaction with data and analysing it, selecting what is useful and then recreating it as
their own. In order to help students obtain these skills, a strategy to digitise South
Korea’s entire school curriculum is already underway, with plans of completion by 2015.
The digital textbooks help students to engage with others and develop their knowledge,
rather than simply acquiring it, and a shift from an individual learning process, to more
of a group learning collective is key.
There is also a tactic in place to set up a system where the students can access lessons
and the curriculum at home. This will help to bridge the gap between socio-economic
grades and give everyone access to the same material, giving students equal
These ideas and strategies to help transform the current education system from a
stressful, miserable and pressurised duty to a more positive and interactive experience
are already underway. They are not fully there yet in terms of improving the happiness
of South Korean children, and relieving them of unnecessary pressures, but they are a
step in the right direction and a welcomed change in regime.
South Korea’s ranking
South Koreans are under intense
pressure to excel academically.
becomes more apparent up
through high school. Oddly, once
a student is accepted to university,
more often than not, the intense
cramming evaporates and social
life becomes paramount.
Educational System and Current Issues
Raquel Anne Nabong
Mary Jelhene Rivera
BSEd Mathematics 4-1
Prof. Jazz Mateo