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is an old saying in Korea: "One
should not step even on the shadow of
one's teacher." This proverb relays
the degree of respect traditionally
accorded to teachers. While there have
been many changes to the Korean
educational system since its adoption of
modern teaching methods, much of the old
in Ancient Korea
generally is taken for granted that
Koreans have traditionally attached
great importance to education, a view
that continues to this day. According to
ancient history texts, formal education
in Korea began during the Three Kingdoms
period (57 B.C.-A.D.668) under the
influence of the Chinese educational
was in 372 that a state-operated
institute for higher education known as T'aehak
(National Confucian Academy) was
established in the Koguryo Kingdom (37
B.C.-A.D.668). A similar institution for
higher education named Kukh'ak
(National Confucian College) was set up
in 682 during the Shilla Kingdom (57
B.C.-A.D.935). Shilla also established a
unique training system called the hwarangdo
(The way of "Flower of Youth
Corps"), to educate the elite youth
of the aristocratic class. The hwarangdo
proved instrumental in unifying the
Korean Peninsula in the seventh century.
The Paekche Kingdom (18 B.C.-A.D.660)
also emphasized education and produced
numerous scholars in various academic
disciplines, many of whom made important
contributions to early Japanese culture.
education in all these kingdoms tended
to be focused on the study of Chinese
classics. Although the succeeding Koryo
Dynasty (918-1392) adopted Buddhism as
its state religion, Confucian studies
continued to have a major influence on
academic circles and the educational
system. The institutionalization of the
civil service examination in the
mid-10th century set the pattern for
educational reform, by directing the
role of education toward preparing young
men for public service. Koryo founded a
state institution for higher education
called Kukchagam (National
University) in 992 in its capital,
Kaesong. It was also about that time
that the central government began to
dispatch scholars to provincial areas to
implement education for local residents.
the late 14th century, however, Buddhism
gradually declined. The founders of the
Choson Dynasty (1392-1910) turned to
Confucianism instead as the source of
basic principles for national politics,
ethics and social institutions. The
highest educational institution during
the Choson period was the Songgyungwan
(National Confucian Academy), which also
served as the center of Confucian
studies. On the secondary level, there
were two kinds of schools: haktang
in the capital of Hanyang (today's
Seoul) and hyanggyo in villages.
Private schools called sodang
carried out primary education.
during the Choson Dynasty was mainly
viewed as a means to prepare young
aristocratic men for future public
service. Examinations in the Chinese
classics were the major criteria for
qualification. This tradition has
survived as the backbone of Korean
education system until the late 19th
century, when Korea opened its door to
experienced the budding of a strong movement for modernization in the late 17th
to 18th century. A group of young scholars came together to search for practical
ways to utilize academic knowledge for the purpose of modernizing the country.
Their scholarship and thought became known as sirhak or "Practical
young scholars had become disillusioned by the impractical theoretical
discussion that dominated conservative academic circles at that time. They
sought the practical application of knowledge in all disciplines of learning,
including history, politics, economics, the natural sciences and humanities, and
attempted to utilize them in building a modernized nation. Of special note is
the fact that they tried to draw lessons from the experience of Qing China,
which had learned a great deal from its contact with the West.
The waves of Western
culture and modernization that reached the coast of the "Hermit
Kingdom," as Korea was known to the West, were powerful enough to move King
Kojong to issue an edict in 1882 to open the doors of state-run schools to
citizens of all classes. Yugyong-kongwon, which was Korea's first school in a
modern sense, was established in 1886. It employed American missionary teachers
who taught English with the aid of interpreters.
established by Western Christian missionaries contributed greatly to the early
development of modern education in Korea. The first missionary school, Paichai
Haktang, was founded in 1886 by a mission group from the North Methodist Church
led by Henry G. Appenzeller. A boys' high school, Kyongshin, was established in
1887 by a Presbyterian group. Ewha Haktang, which was set up in 1886 by a
Methodist mission group, was Korea's first school for girls. Five other
missionary schools were founded in major cities in the following years.
The 1900s saw a
mushrooming of private secondary schools founded by Koreans, most of whom were
wealthy aristocrats who had come to realize the importance of education during
the critical period that preceded Japan's annexation of Korea in 1910. The most
notable of these were the boy's schools Posong, Yangjong and Whimoon located
respectively in Seoul, Osan and P'yongyang, and the girl's schools Sookmyung,
Chinmyong and Dongduck, all located in Seoul.
missionaries also established the Choson Christian College (which later
developed into Yonsei University) in Seoul in 1905, and Soongsil College in
P'yongyang in 1906.
The development of
modern education was disrupted during the Japanese colonial occupation of Korea
(1910-1945). Although the number of public schools increased substantially
during the colonial period, the education provided by these schools fell far
short of the rising aspirations of Koreans. Educational opportunities were
limited to a small number of Koreans. Elementary schools, for example,
accommodated only 30 percent of all school-age children; only one out of 20 or
so enrolled in secondary schools, and very few Koreans were able to attend
The school system in
Korea follows a 6-3-3-4 ladder pattern which consists of elementary school (1st
to 6th grades), middle school (7th to 9th grades), high school (10th to 12th
grades) and junior college, college and university. Elementary school provides
six years of compulsory elementary education to children between the ages of 6
and 11. Middle school offers three years of lower secondary education to those
aged 12 to 14. High school offers three years of higher secondary education to
students aged 15 to 17. High school graduates can choose to apply to a junior
college or a college or university to receive higher education.
High schools are
generally divided into two categories, general and vocational. Air &
correspondence high schools are included in the former, while agricultural,
commercial, fishery and technical high schools are included in the latter. There
are a limited number of schools of the so-called "comprehensive" type
which offer both general and vocational training. There are also science high
schools and other speciality high schools, including foreign language high
schools, art high schools and athletic schools.
Institutes of higher
learning include two- or three-year junior vocational colleges and four-year
colleges and universities. Both the universities of education and colleges of
education offer four-year courses.
In addition to the
general school ladder system, there are secondary level trade schools which
provide highly specialized vocational training. Civic schools, originally
intended to offer literacy courses, now provide elementary and secondary level
education mostly for financially underprivileged students. With compulsory
education requirements extending to the 6th grade, however, these schools have
been gradually disappearing.
There are also
special schools offering elementary and secondary education for the deaf, blind
and other learning difficulty. Preschool education is provided by kindergartens.
is not included in the formal school system. However, its importance justifies
attention in relation to the formal school system. Kindergarten is the main
facility for preschool education in Korea.
As of 1997, there
were 9,010 kindergartens enrolling 567,814 children. This accounts for 27.7
percent of preschool children in Korea with ages ranging from 3 to 5 years old.
Because of the low enrollment figures, the Ministry of Education has recently
instituted the policies in order to increase the availability of kindergarten
education aims at providing an appropriate environment for the nurturing and
development of children through various pleasant activities and diverse methods
of instruction. The curricula consist of five life areas: physical, social, expression, language and inquiry life areas. These facts may be surprising to students obtaining an early childhood education degree in the states.
legislation was enacted in 1948, elementary education for children was not made
compulsory until 1953 because of the post-Korean War rehabilitation effort. The
Constitution stipulates in Article 31 that it is the responsibility of all
parents and guardians to ensure an elementary school education for their
children aged 6 to 11 and that this education is free.
enrollment showed a sharp increase from 1952, reaching a peak of more than 5
million in 1971. The increase in student enrollment during those years pushed
some individual school enrollments as high as 10,000 or more, with more than 90
pupils crammed in one classroom in some schools. Many schools found it necessary
to operate classes in two or even three daily shifts. As of 1997, there were
6,623 elementary schools including 902 branch schools throughout the country,
with 3,783,986 pupils accommodated in 107,860 classes and staffed by 138,670
teachers. The majority of elementary school teachers are graduates of four-year
colleges of education.
Article 93 of the
Education Act states that the goal of elementary school education is to teach
the fundamentals necessary for a productive civic life. In order to fulfill this
objective, the basic curricula for elementary school education are divided into
nine principal subjects: moral education, Korean language, social studies,
arithmetic, natural science, physical education, music, fine arts and the
practical arts. However, subject matters in grade 1 and 2 are integrated in
"disciplined life," "intelligent life" and "pleasant
Upon completing elementary school,
children between the ages of 12-14 are allowed to enter middle school for the
7th to 9th grade courses. The number of middle school students has shown an
impressive rate of growth in recent decades. The percentage of elementary school
graduates advancing to middle school increased from 58.4 percent in 1969 to 99.9
percent in 1997. As of 1997, there are 2,720 middle schools across Korea with a
total enrollment of 2,180,296.
Since the abolition of the entrance
examination in 1969, admission to middle school has been made through lottery
assignments administered on a zone-by-zone basis. This measure was adopted with
the aim of eradicating distinctions between so-called inferior and superior
schools, so that all elementary school graduates could have equal access to all
middle schools located in their respective school districts.
The middle school curricula are
composed of 11 basic or required subjects, elective subjects and extra curricula
activities. Technical and vocational courses are included in the elective
subjects to ensure the productive relationship between education and occupation.
education aims at providing advanced general and specific education on the basis
of middle school education. Middle school graduates or those with equivalent
academic background may enter high schools. The period of study is three years
and students bear the expenses of the education.
Admission into high
school is based primarily upon the grades received on the high school entrance
examination, but there has been some changes in the admission process since
1974, when the equalization policy for high school admission was put into
According to the
revision of the Education Act of May 31, 1995, there are various new ways of
selecting students for admission, including the recent taking into account of
the so-called "school activities records" where the three-year life of
the middle school students is recorded. For example, in 1997, four metropolitan
cities - Seoul, Pusan, Inch'on and Kwangju - selected students according to the
school activities records alone. Taegu, Taejon, Kyonggi-do, Kangwon-do,
Ch'ungch'nongnam-do, and Kyongsangnam-do areas took into account both school
activities records and examination test scores. Ch'ungch'dongbuk-do,
Kyongsangbuk-do and Cheju-do areas took into account only examination test
scores when screening freshmen students for admission.
introduction of these individualized standards for school admission, small-sized
specialized high schools in areas such as music, the arts as well as math and
science have been and will continue to be established. For those students
returning home from abroad into domestic schools, international school will be
also established. And after 1998, "private high schools" that can be
sustained with finances from their own resources will be given the right to
select students as well as to decide tuition payments.
There are four
categories of institutions for higher learning: (1) colleges and universities
with four-year undergraduate programs (six-year in medical colleges), (2) junior
colleges, (3) universities of education and colleges of education, and (4)
miscellaneous schools like theological colleges and seminaries.
About 80 percent of
all Korean institutes of higher education are private. In accordance with the
Education Act and the relevant presidential and ministerial decrees, all
institutes of higher education, whether public or private, come under the
supervision of the Ministry of Education. The Ministry has control over such
matters as student quotas, qualifications of teaching staff, curricula, degree
requirements, and so on.
aims at teaching and studying fundamental academic theories and their various
application as necessary for the progress and enlightenment of society and the
global community, with the aim of nurturing the nation's future leaders.
The unit for
measuring the completion of each course is a credit. Each university oversees
the requirements for the completion of each credit, the minimum credits
necessary for graduation, and the standard credits and maximum credits required
to be taken each semester, the method to obtain special credit, and credits
required for the completion of preparatory courses on the basis of school
The curricula are
composed of general and professional courses and each is again divided into
required and elective courses. Bachelor's degrees are offered in 26 areas of
study. There were only 19 institutions of higher education in the entire Korean
Peninsula at the time of national liberation in 1945. In 1997, the number of
these institutions in South Korea has increased to 950 with a total of 2,792,410
students and 69,157 faculty members.
There are also opportunities for Korean students to study abroad in American universities such as Averett College.
universities in Korea operate under strict enrollment limits. Because of the
difference in college admission quotas and the number of applicants, each school
year produces a large number of repeat applicants who add to the intensity of
competition for college admission. The number of repeat applicants has been
declining in recent years due to the expansion of the number of students
admitted per year and the increasing number of support systems for repeat
The college entrance
examination system underwent a drastic reform in 1981. The main entrance
examination was abolished and a new system was introduced that combined
scholastic achievements in high school with the score obtained in the nationwide
qualifying examination to determine the applicant's eligibility for admission.
In an effort to
broaden the autonomy of colleges and universities and to normalize high school
examination-bound education, a new entrance examination was introduced in April
1991. In this new system, the students' high school records accorded for 40
percent of the overall admissions decision. It also gave individual colleges the
right to decide how to weigh the applicants' college scholastic achievement test
scores with those administered by the colleges themselves.
In almost all
colleges and universities, applicants are also allowed to apply for special
screening. Students from farming and fishing villages and handicapped students
may be selected through this process. Although the dates for these exams are set
by the Ministry of Education, each university can select specific dates at its
convenience. Students are allowed to apply for as many universities as they
choose only if they are offered exams on different dates.
colleges are post-secondary programs and are the direct outgrowth of the
increasing demand for technical manpower attendant to rapid industrialization.
They are the product of a merger between 2-year junior colleges and 2-3 year
professional high schools. Since this establishment in 1979, the number of
junior vocational colleges has grown to 155 as of 1997 with an enrollment of
They are now playing
a major role in the attainment of short-term higher education. The purpose of
junior vocational education is to produce mid-level technicians who can devote
themselves to a national development through the dissemination of technical
knowledge in every field of society. Their specialized courses are grouped into
technical, agricultural, fishery, nursing, sanitation, home economics, social
practice, the arts and athletics, with two or three year programs depending on
the course of introduction. The nursing, clinical pathology, radiation, fishing,
navigation and engine courses require 3 years of education. The communication
course requires two and a half years; the rest require two years of education.
For the effective
achievement of its educational goals, junior vocational colleges develop and
operate a practical curriculum through a school-industry collaborative.
Speciality is stressed as preparation for the National Certification
Examination. Liberal arts subjects consist of a minimum of general subjects; the
number of credits required in the subjects is decided by school regulations.
On-the-job training is given 1-3 credits.
vocational colleges put an emphasis on practical education aimed at producing
mid-level technicians, it is not necessarily a terminal point of education. They
also keep doors open for students who would like to continue their education at
the university level. For employed youths, they also provides avenues for
continued education. As efforts are being intensified to ensure the relevance of
junior college education, the percentage of the employed among graduates is
university offer four or six-year courses, the latter including medical and
dental colleges. College education aims to promote the proliferation of
knowledge for the betterment of the nation and society as well as to prepare
students for leadership roles. Colleges and universities have shown a great deal
of quantitative and qualitative growth in the present decade. As of 1997, there
are 150 colleges and universities attended by a total of 1,368,461 students.
A student who has
completed 130-140 credit units or more is awarded a bachelor's degree (except in
medicine and dentistry). There are over 600 fields of study, including
literature, theology, fine arts, music, law, political science, economics,
business administration, commerce, physical science, home economics, physical
education, engineering, medicine, dentistry, Korean medicine, public health and
nursing, pharmacology, agricultural science, veterinary medicine, and fisheries.
However, course selection varies according to the institution.
curricula consist of required courses and electives. One course credit is given
to a lecture/class course meeting one hour per week for more than 15 weeks.
International students and foreign students of Korean origin are welcome and may
be admitted at any level and at any school. All those who have a high school
diploma or its equivalent are eligible for admission to the undergraduate
The Education Act
stipulates that a university must have one or more graduate schools offering
research-oriented courses for graduate students who aspire to pursue academic or
professional careers. As of 1997, there were 116 general graduate schools
attached to general universities and 476 professional graduate schools,
including six graduate schools established at open-admission universities. As of
1997, the total enrollment in graduate courses provided by universities across
Korea was 151,358, including 128,097 the master's degree level students.
In general, the
minimum requirement for a master's degree is 24 credits, normally achieved in
four semesters by day students and five semesters by night students. The minimum
requirement for a doctorate is 60 credits including 24 credits for gaining a
master's degree, which usually takes three years to earn. Those who complete the
required credits and who pass two foreign language examinations as well as a
comprehensive examination for doctoral degree are entitled to write
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