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K-12 Education in South Korea

South Korea follows a 6-3-3 system. Compulsory education in South Korea lasts for 9 years and includes six years of primary education, followed by 3 years of lower secondary education (Middle school) and then upper secondary education imparted by High school that is not compulsory and lasts for 3 years. South Korean schools follow a national curriculum that is created by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST).

Pre-Primary/Preschool Education

The pre-primary education in South Korea comprises of Kindergarten and nursery schools. The Preschool education is provided by the private schools. The preschools in South Korea along with academic education, have enjoyable playful activities designed for kids. Kids are taught how to read and write in both English as well as Korean. Also, simple math is being taught at pre-primary level. Classes are held in a traditional classroom context, wherein one lesson or activity is taught at a time.  
  • Age: 3- 6 years old

Primary Education

Primary Education in South Korea is compulsory and free. It is also called as elementary education. Students at the age of 6 enter the elementary/primary schools or Chodeung-hakgyo. Primary education focuses on developing the fundamental skills that will be needed by children throughout their lives. 
  • Grades: 1-6
  • Duration: 6 years
  • Age: 6-12 years old
Curriculum: Moral education, Korean language, mathematics, physical education, music, social studies, fine arts, ethics, science, and practical arts. English is taught at the grade 3.

 Secondary Education

Secondary education comprises of middle schools and high schools. 

Middle School

Middle School in South Korea is compulsory and free.  After the completion of the elementary/primary schools, students have to attend Middle School. It is compulsory to attend Middle School or jung-hakgyo in South Korea. Middle Schools establish a strong academic footing.  
  • Grades: 7-9 
  • Duration: 3 years
  • Age: 12-15 years old
Curriculum:  Consists of 12 basic or core subjects, along with the electives, and extracurricular activities. 
  • Basic subjects: Mathematics, Korean language, English, social studies and science, moral education, music, Physical education, fine arts and practical arts. 
  • Extracurricular and optional courses/electives: Home economics and technology, computer and information technology, environmental education and foreign languages. 

High School

The Upper Secondary education is imparted by the High schools in South Korea. The high schools aim to nurture the student’s personality and ability needed to protect and strengthen the backbone of the country. The high schools in South Korea develop students' knowledge, social and intellectual skills, critical thinking abilities, and prepares them for the job market. The Upper secondary education in South Korea is provided by- academic/general; vocational; and special purpose or specialised high schools. 
  • Grades: 10-12
  • Duration: 3 years
  • Age: 15-18 years old
Curriculum: In general/academic high school, the basic subjects remain the same as in the middle school. The specialised subjects offered are in-
  • Science: biology, physics, chemistry, and earth science
  • Social Studies:  History, Geography, politics, economics and cultural studies 
Specialised or special purpose schools and vocational schools have their own curriculum related to their fields of study, although they do ask pupils to complete some courses in general/academic subjects.

High Schools in South Korea are of 3 kinds-

Academic/General High Schools

General/academic high schools in South Korea provide advanced general education along with elective courses, which students choose based on their intended university course/program.  In academic high schools, during the last 2 years, students may select their specialization area- Humanities or Sciences.  In the 1st year of the high school, i.e. grade 10, the curriculum covers 10 compulsory subjects and 10 elective courses. It is basically general education.
The 10 compulsory subjects are: English, Korean language, ethics, social studies and Korean history music, mathematics, physical education, science, technology and home economics, and fine arts.
After the 1st year of general education, students get to choose their major field of study, with options to pursue either humanities and social studies that is divided into politics, geography, history, economics and cultural studies, earth science, and natural sciences  that covers physics, biology, chemistry. Students can even go for vocational training. 
At the completion of the General/Academic High School, student receives a Senior High School Certificate.

Vocational High Schools

Vocational high schools focus on specific occupational areas, such as agriculture, commerce, technology, and fishery.  Admission is based on the middle school scores or entrance exam.  After the completion of the vocational high school, students get a Vocational High School Certificate.

Special Purpose or Specialised High Schools

Specialised high schools provide education in the following areas: arts and music, foreign language, athletics, and the sciences. 

School Year

The academic year in South Korean schools is split into 2 semesters-
  • The first semester commences at the beginning of March and continues until mid-July. 
  • The second semester commences at the end of August and runs through until mid-February. 
Within these semesters, there are 2-week long vacations given to students. The exact dates are decided by the schools itself. 

Attendance Requirement

 Students should have an attendance of at least 220 days at all three levels.

School Hours 

For Primary School 

The classes for the lower grades, i.e. Grades 1-3, starts at 8:30am and runs until 2:00pm 
The classes for the upper grades, i.e. Grades 4-6, starts at about 9:00am and goes on until 3:00pm.
 Each class duration is 40 minutes 

For Middle School

The school hours for middle school are usually from 8:00am to 3:30pm, wherein each class span is about 45 minutes. 

For High School

The school hours for high school are generally from 8:00am to 4:00pm, wherein each class lasts for 50 minutes. 
In high school, the senior students are at times required to stay until 9:00pm or later for self-study or extra class. Teachers rotate and the pupils are asked to stay in their classroom except for certain classes such as Physical Education, Science labs and Music.

Grading System

Secondary Education Grading-

  1. Scale
  2. Grade Description
  3. Percentage
  4. Aggregate Percentile
  5. US Grade
  • 1.00
  • Rank 1
  • 4%
  • 4%
  • A
  • 2.00-2.99
  • Rank2
  • 7%
  • 11%
  • A
  • 3.00-3.99
  • Rank3
  • 12%
  • 23%
  • B
  • 4.00-4.99
  • Rank4
  • 17%
  • 40%
  • B
  • 5.00-5.99
  • Rank5
  • 20%
  • 60%
  • C
  • 6.00-6.99
  • Rank6
  • 17%
  • 77%
  • C
  • 7.00-7.99
  • Rank7
  • 12%
  • 89%
  • D
  • 8.00-8.99
  • Rank8
  • 7%
  • 96%
  • D
  • 9.00-9.99
  • Rank9
  • 4%
  • 100%
  • F
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