South Korea went from 78% illiteracy to 100% literacy in a matter of 50 years. Not an easy feat to achieve but they did it nonetheless. This is why, today, I will be sharing my understanding of the South Korean education system and its best practices.

To start off with, what is the South Korean Mantra to success?

  • Study hard enough to become Smart enough

It’s as simple as that! There are no excuses, just hard work.

Students study a LOT. They typically attend school from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, next they attend after school classes till 9:00/10:00 PM, and then do their homework and hit the bed!

Here’s what their school system is like –

Infant School:

  • Nursery School (1 to 4 years)
  • Kindergarten (5 to 7 years)

Primary School:

  • Grade 1 to Grade 6 (7 to 13 years)

Middle School:

  • Grade 7 to Grade 9 (13 to 16 years)

High School:

  • Grade 10 to 12 (16 to 19 years)

Post Secondary Education:

  • Tertiary education (College/University)
  • Membership training of Korea

From an economy that depended on the United Nations Development Program and the World Bank for its survival to being the 14th largest economy in the world, South Korea sure had its fair shares of lows and lows. However, one quality of theirs that helped them stand tall is the importance they give to education. As a matter of fact, Education is the only metric in South Korea that raises an individual’s (and/or the family’s) cultural and socio-economic standing.

Investment in Education:
  • The Ministry of Education has a budget of US$29 billion which is 20% of the central government expenditure.
  • South Korean parents spend 15% more on their child’s education when compared to any other country
  • On the whole, parents spend $200 billion on private educational institutes.
  • On average, one-third of the family’s income is spent on education.
  • Between having a lavish lifestyle or sending their kids to private institutions, parents always opt for the latter.

People of South Korea strongly believe in grit and hard work. Psychologically speaking, the system believes that students have to go through short-term unhappiness (in terms of a tough-rigorous period) to get to long-term happiness (in terms of a great future). South Korean students have achieved a 100% literacy rate and rank second in OECD’s Mathematics, Science and Reading literacy.

Speaking of their education system, Chung Chang Yong, principal of Ewha Girls’ High School said: “In a country so small, with no natural resources, the reason we can export cars is because of our human resources.”

Key Learnings
  • Parental Involvement: South Korean parents are heavily vested in their child’s future. From sending their students to the best institutes to becoming Tiger Moms – a term which refers to a strict mother who pushes her children to be successful academically by attaining high levels of scholastic and academic achievement – they do everything!
  • Teacher Training: Teachers in South Korea enjoy the status of civil servants, however, the journey to becoming one is not easy. Excessive training later, only 5% of the teachers get accepted and only 1% of them make it till the end of the academic year.
  • Use of Technology: There is no such thing as the ‘over-use’ of technology in South Korea. From LEDs to smart boards, from computers to tablets, classrooms are filled with gadgets to facilitate training and increase access to the reading material.

What’s interesting to know is how different the South Korean education system is from the Finnish and yet the results both systems yield are remarkably the same.