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Education/Literacy in Korea


According to ancient history texts, formal education began during the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC-AD 668) under the influence of the Chinese educational system.  Higher education in all these kingdoms tended to be focused on the study of Chinese classics of Confucian orientation.  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.

By the late 14th century, Buddhism gradually declined and so did the central government.  The founders of the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910) turned to Confucianism as the source of basic principles for national politics, ethics and social institutions.  Education during the Choson Dynasty was mainly viewed as a means to prepare young aristocratic men for future public service.

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 upholding education as one of the "pillars" of the nation and opening the doors of state-operated schools to citizens of all classes.  Yugyong kong-won, 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.


Korea's liberation from Japan in 945 marked a turning point in the history of education.  As the country underwent a transition from totalitarian rule to democracy, a primary concern was to provide everybody with equal educational opportunities.  The period from 1945 to 1970 witnessed a dramatic expansion of education.  In spite of the widespread destruction and economic suffering brought about by the Korean War (1950-1953), Korea succeeded in virtually eliminating illiteracy.  Such a rapid expansion was naturally accompanied by problems, the most serious being a deterioration in the quality of education.  As the 1960s drew to a close, Korea's educators turned their attention to these problems and several projects were launched to improve the curricula and the methods of instruction.

There is an old saying in Korea: "One should never step even on the shadow of his 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 tradition remains.  



Korean, English widely taught in junior high and high school
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 97.9%
male: 99.2%
female: 96.6% (2002)
School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education):
total: 17 years
male: 18 years
female: 16 years (2008)
Education expenditures:
4.2% of GDP (2007)
country comparison to the world: 100 supports I.C.E.Y. - H.O.P.E. (non-profit org)
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