Education in Korea Today

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Koreans’ strong zeal for education is commonly known to have been one of the driving forces for the rapid economic growth of their nation. Modern Korean education is characterized by the world’s highest college entrance rate, and students boast top levels of academic achievements. Historically, Korean people have attached substantial value to education. This is closely connected with state examination system which rewarded people with positions and financial gains when they passed the exam based on values such as ‘aspiration for achieving fame and prestige’, ‘lineage ideology’ and ‘family-ism’.

After 1945, the Western educational system was adopted as a model by Korea, especially that of the United States. As part of the policy of improving quality of the workforce, a compulsory elementary education system was introduced. Then, in line with industrialization based on heavy industries and advanced technologies, education in middle and high schools was transformed to a system of producing high-quality manpower and skilled technicians, while expanding higher education capacities.

Education in industrial society that puts emphasis on delivering standardized and objectified knowledge has built a uniform way of thinking. In this course, the society established such an atmosphere that happy lives could be achieved by getting good jobs and earning much money. With collapse of established social hierarchy, education was used as a clear instrument for social mobility and raising status, driving students into whirlpool of overheated competition for entering high schools and colleges. Abnormal competition was further instigated by private tutoring institutions.

Yet, Korea has achieved expansion in public education in both quantity and quality in a short period of time. Thanks to the world’s highest school attendance rate, drastic investment in education infrastructure and training high-quality teachers, the educational environment was significantly improved. Based on this favorable environment, Korean students maintain outstanding levels in international academic achievement assessments. However, a responsible officer at the OECD diagnosed future of Korean education in different aspect, saying, “Korean students need to cultivate their ability to adapt to new situations and think beyond the boundary of Korea by bringing up what they know instead of reproducing knowledge.”

Having evolved from an industrial society to a knowledge and information society, we are now into the 4th industrial revolution, requiring flexible and creative ways of thinking as well as ability to converge a variety of knowledge. Complying with this change, the education community in Korea strives to transform the existing paradigm.

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