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World Education Highlight: Korea - Rigor & Uniformity

Updated: Jul 2

South Korea, a beacon of advancement in the modern world, exemplifies this through its education system, which is intricately tied to concepts of family honor and success, particularly in business and STEM fields. This system is characterized by its demanding nature, requiring intense study and high achievement from its students.


A day in the life of a Korean student

A typical school day in Korea begins at 8:00 a.m. and ends at 4:00 p.m., divided into 50-minute sessions. Post-school, students participate in mandatory school cleaning, with the evening reserved for solitary studying, often extending to as late as 2:00 a.m. Wealthier families hire tutors for their students, with a normal study time per student at a rounded 8 hours after the school day, which does affect sleep. It may seem a lot to us in America, but this is the norm for Korean students.


College Scholastic Ability Test

Korea’s education system mirrors the American structure in its three-tier format: six years of primary school, followed by three years each of middle and high school. However, the Korean college entrance exam, known as the College Scholastic Ability Test, is a formidable challenge, far surpassing the intensity of the American SAT or ACT. This crucial test can last up to eight hours, with the entire country shutting down to ensure a distraction-free environment … including air traffic!


Classroom dynamics and academic rigor

Korean schools traditionally have uniforms and are often single-gender, though coeducational institutions are becoming more prevalent. High schools are categorized into vocational and academic tracks, with fewer specialty schools than found in the States. The academic year runs from March to July and September to February, with a mandatory attendance of at least 220 days annually per student.


Structured curriculum

Elementary students are all taught nine subjects that include moral education, Korean language, and English. Middle and high school students generally have twelve subjects, with an added emphasis on electives and specialization. Korean schools have found lecture-based learning to be the most effective, largely due to its alignment with students' early educational experiences.


The transformation of Korea through education

Since the Korean War, the nation's education system has seen a remarkable transformation. While the intensity and high expectations of the system are subjects of debate, the results are undeniable.


In a span of 60 years, Korea's literacy rate leaped from 22% to nearly 100%, a testament to the effectiveness of its education system. This rigorous approach has not only cultivated a highly committed workforce but has also been instrumental in shaping Korea’s intellectual influence on the world stage.



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