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Education in Korea - Age Groups & Types of Students

  • Kindergarten (age 4 - 6): South Korea does not administer a publicly funded kindergarten program. Kindergarten aged students are generally sent to private kindergarten schools where they learn basic Korean subjects and in some cases, an introduction to the English language.

  • Elementary School (age 7 - 12): Most Elementary schools across Korea will teach the same subjects and use the same curriculum. Subjects are comparable to the West and generally include; math, science, English, social studies, social studies, fine arts, phys-ed, music and sometimes practical arts and moral education.

  • Middle School (age 13 - 16): Middle schools represent a dramatic change from elementary schools. Middle school students are expected, and in many cases subject to considerable pressure, to take education very seriously. School uniforms, haircuts and attitude are usually controlled and homeroom teachers are expected to play a key role in the students’ lives. Similar to elementary schools, students in middle school usually spend the duration of their day with the same classmates with different teachers coming and going for each subject.

  • High School (age 17 - 18 or 19): High schools are quite different then the West. High schools fall into a number of different categories which include; public high schools, private high schools, vocational schools and specialty high schools. Public and private high schools are similar to the West; however, specialty schools are uniquely different. Specialty schools are divided into specific tracks that are geared towards a student’s career path or areas they excel at. These schools are highly competitive and entrance examinations are usually required. Specialty schools were implemented in order to help students get accepted into colleges and universities that offer similar courses and programs. Students who do not plan on attending college usually go to vocational schools which offer specialized fields such as finance, technology, agriculture, etc. These students usually enter the work force right after graduation.

  • University (age 19 - Adult): Securing a university education is generally viewed as ‘a paramount requirement for future success’ in South Korea. In order to get accepted into a Korean university students need to take the College Scholastic Ability Test, known as Su-neung in the Korean language. The test is comprised of 5 sections which include: Korean, math, English, foreign languages or Chinese characters, and a number of ‘electives’ in the sciences - physical and social sciences. Students are afforded 1 chance per year to pass the test; meaning, if they fail then they have to wait another year before trying again. An immense amount of pressure is placed on students to pass the test and intense studying, memorization and last minute cramming are common place. Those applying to tier 1 universities face even greater pressure from their families and as a result many students must sacrifice their personal interests along the way.

A brief overview about the history of education in South Korea:

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