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Education System of South Korea

Education in South Korea is provided by public educational institutions as well as private institutions. And these educational institutions acquire the support and funding from the government.  

The Korean education system works on a 6-3-3-4 system. Primary school lasts for 6 years, followed by the middle schools that lasts for 3 years, and then comes the high school lasting 3 years. After completing the high school, comes the 4 years of undergraduate education

Compulsory Education

The compulsory education in South Korea lasts for 9 years. Children between the ages 6 to 15 years must attend the compulsory schooling in South Korea, i.e. six years of elementary/primary schools followed by three years of middle schools.
  • Grades:1 to 9

Education System: Background

Modern reforms in the field of Education in South Korea started in the late 19th Century. Before 19th Century, there was Confucian education wherein pupils were taught the teachings of Confucius and later Buddhism was also added to the course of study. During the 19th century-modern education started.  Many patriots and foreign missionaries founded private schools and national institutes, forming the basis for Korea's modern education system. In 1945, emerged the democratic education. The government adapted 6-3-3 system during that phase and even initiated adult education. The major milestone of this period (1945-50) was introduction of ‘Compulsory Education’.  The law permits all Korean nationals to gain education. All children must attend school at least through the elementary school level. Compulsory education was made free. In 1960s, came the quantitative education. During this period, educational facilities increased, junior colleges were set up, and Universities were expanded.  Then came the qualitative education in 1980s, during which the ‘Non-formal education Act’ and ‘Preschool Education Support Act’ were initiated. The 1990s period was known as the current system of education. 

Educational System Vital Statistics

School Education-

Elementary Schools- 5855
Middle Schools- 3144
High School-2313

Junior College Courses

Total Junior College Course Institutions in South Korea- 149

Out of which there are 145 Junior Colleges, 1 Cyber College & University, 1 Distance College & University, 1 College in the Company and 1 Miscellaneous School.

Undergraduate Course

Total Undergraduate Course Institutions in South Korea- 222

Out of which 179 are Universities, 10-University of Education, 11-Industrial Universities, 1 Polytechnic College, 1 Air & Correspondence University, 2 Miscellaneous Schools, 2 Distance College & University, 15 Cyber College & University, and 1 College in the Company.

Graduate Schools

Total Graduate Schools in South Korea- 40

Source: Ministry of Education, Republic of Korea

South Korea Education: Understanding the System

South Korean education is divided into-school education and higher education. School Education encompasses pre-primary education, primary and secondary education.

Pre-Primary Education

Pre-Primary education includes kindergarten and Nursery.
  • Age: 3- 6 years old

Primary Education

The primary education in South Korea is compulsory and free.
  • Grades: 1-6
  • Age: 6-12 (8-13 in Korean years)

Secondary Education

Secondary education in South Korea encompasses Middle schools and High schools. 

Middle Schools: In the middle school, the course of study is split into compulsory and elective subjects along with the extracurricular activities. 
  • Grades: 7-9
  • Age: 12-15
High School: Middle school graduates are eligible for high school education that lasts for 3 years. It focuses on offering basic and advanced education based on the middle school education.  High School encompasses academic/general, vocational and special purpose or specialised high schools.
  • Grade: 10-12
  • Age: 15-18
General/Academic high schools provide regular high school education.

Vocational High schools provide general secondary education as well as specialized courses of study/training.

Special Purpose schools provide education in certain fields, like art high schools, foreign language schools, and science high schools. 

Higher Education: At a Glance

Higher education in South Korea is imparted by colleges and universities, industrial universities, junior colleges, universities of education, broadcast and correspondence universities, technological universities, and other miscellaneous institutions. 

Higher Education Institutions

The higher education institutions in South Korea are-Colleges and Universities, Industrial universities, Universities of education, Junior colleges, Broadcast and Correspondence Universities, Technical colleges and Other types of institutions.

Universities and Colleges: The Universities offers courses that last for 4-6 years and provide theoretical education that is needed for the overall development of the humankind.

Junior Colleges and Industrial Universities: Junior Colleges and Industrial Universities offer 2-3 years higher courses of study. These institutions provide practical education.

Graduate Schools: The graduate schools focus on academic research as well as practical-oriented studies.

Higher Education Qualifications

Following are the higher education qualifications in South Korea-

Undergraduate Studies

The Undergraduate studies in South Korea encompasses the Associate degree and the bachelor degree programmes. The Undergraduate degree programs last for 4-6 years.

Associate Degree: The Associate degree lasts for 2-3 years and is offered by the Junior Colleges and Industrial Universities in several vocational areas of study.
Bachelor Degree: The bachelor degree generally lasts for 4 years and is provided by the Universities and Colleges in South Korea

Master’s Degree

The Master degree program lasts for 2 years and is offered by the Universities and 4-year colleges.

Doctoral Degree

The doctoral degree programs are administered by the Ministry of Education. The doctoral program last for 3 years or more and requires a completion of a thesis.

Lifelong Education

The lifelong education courses are provided in South Korea. These courses/programs are classified into-
  • Para-School Education
  • Occupational and Technical Education
  • General or Liberal Education
Para-schools Education: Such schools do not need a day-long attendance. Following are the Para-schools- civic schools, Industry-attached schools- are middle as well as high school, civic high schools, evening classes offered at middle and high schools, broadcast and correspondence high schools, broadcast and correspondence universities, accreditation programs for self-study, company-attached universities, industrial universities and distance learning universities.

Vocational/Occupation Education and training: The vocation education is offered at vocational training centers under the supervision of the Ministry of Labor, at learning centers under the directions of education offices. Also, agriculture technology education is provided at the Agriculture Center under the administration of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and fishery and maritime skills education under management of the Maritime and Fisheries Affairs offices.

General education: It encourages social education and is intended for general public. Based on the Lifelong Education Law, general education is advertised in lifelong education facilities, public libraries, TV Campaigns, museums, local events, cultural centers, national theaters, and newspapers.

Admission Procedure

The admissions procedure varies depending on the educational institution but, in general, the applicant can apply directly to the University of their Choice either by post or online. Proficiency in the Korean language is required by many educational institutions in South Korea. 

Standardized Test

College Scholastic Ability Test: CSAT is a standardized test used by Universitas and Colleges in South Korea in their admission process.

Korean Language Proficiency Tests

TOPIK- Test of Proficiency in Korean is a language test that evaluates the Korean language skills of the non-native speakers.

English Language Proficiency Tests

TEPS: Test of English Proficiency is an English proficiency test made and introduced by Seoul National University's Language Education Institute to assess South Korean test applicants English language proficiency.

Test of English as a Foreign Language: TOEFL tests proficiency in English language in academic settings.

International English Language Testing System: IELTS tests the proficiency in English language of non-native speakers.

Academic Year

The Academic Year in South Korea is split into 2 semesters- 1st starts in March and run through until August, and the 2nd semester starts in September and goes on till February. There are summer vacations in between the terms. 

Top Universities in South Korea

The top 3 Universities in South Korea often known as ‘SKY “are-
  •  Seoul National University
  • Korea University 
  • Yonsei University
The top 10 Universities and Colleges in South Korea are-
  • Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)
  • Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH)
  • Yonsei University
  • Seoul National University
  • Sungkyuwwan University
  • Korea University
  • Sogang University
  • Kyung Hee University
  • Hanyang University
  • Chung-Ang University
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