educational system south korea

Schooling in South Korea



revolve around (2) revolves around
follow shift (2) private school
set off formidable far from (2)
tots round (2) pressure (2)
cram majority spend/spent/spend (2)
tired mass (2) forget/forgot/forgotten
kind of dream (2) all over again
achieve stand out natural resources
set (2) fantastic mammoth (2)
GCSE mark (2) a long way to go
invest exhausted I don’t mind
result illiteracy extraordinary
brand generation single-mindedness
focus considered come at a cost
envy sustainable environment (2)
rapid gradually developed country
hence expected put under stress
soul minister soul-searching
remodel longingly phenomenal
compete record (3) come at a price
suicide weigh up






South Korea, where a child’s life revolves around education. Regular school is followed in the evening by private school, a double shift of schooling, making them some of the most formidable pupils in the world.

Sixteen year-old Hye-Min goes to school in Gangnam in Seoul, made famous by the pop star Psi.

After school she leaves with her brother. But far from relaxing at home, she sets off again for her second round of study.

Even the little ones do a double shift. Long after what might be considered bedtime in the UK, these tots are still working.

Hye-Min then spends hours at the hagwon, or private crammer, just like the great majority of Korean children.

Hye-Min Park, Student: “I get tired easily, but I forget about my courses when I see my results because they’re kind of good.”

Hye-Min gets home after eleven, having spent a mammoth thirteen hours in study. It’s bed at two a.m. and then up again at 6:30 to do it all over again.

Yoon-Gyelon Hwang, Mother: “Korea has few natural resources. We only have people. So anyone who wants to be successful really has to stand out. As a mother I don’t feel comfortable about this, but it’s the only thing she can do to achieve her dream.”

The result of this non-stop study is children who are fantastic at tests. We set these fifteen and sixteen year-olds GCSE math questions. They did them in half the expected time, with most of them getting full marks.

Student Two: “I like going to school because there are many good friends and good teachers.”

Student Three: “Sometimes, I’m very tired, like exhausted. But I don’t mind because I’m studying now to do what I want to do in the future.”

For the economy, this huge investment in education has taken this country in just two generations from mass illiteracy to technological powerhouse.

Korean brands are internationally famous. The country has built itself up with extraordinary single-mindedness since the end of the war with North Korea sixty years ago.

But Korea’s success has come at a cost: the pressure on young people is huge. And the suicide rate is the highest of all developed countries.

Is this pressurized environment really sustainable?

Nam Soo Soh, South Korean Education Minister: “I don’t think any other country has achieved such rapid growth as South Korea in the past fifty years.

We’ve focused on school achievement, and that’s put lots of people under stress, hence the high suicide rates. We still have a long a long way to go. But we’re doing some soul-searching, and we’re trying to make our people happier.”

In many ways, Korea is the envy of the Western world. Ministers in Westminster and beyond look longingly at its education record, and are remodeling their own systems to try to compete.

But Korea’s phenomenal success has come at a real price for its people, a price the country is now gradually starting to weigh up.

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1. In general, children in South Korea attend school, play, do homework and have hobbies. They have a “balanced” life. True or false?

2. After regular school, do students return home, watch TV, play sports and games and visit friends?

3. Only teens and high school students long hours. Is this correct or incorrect? Do they get adequate sleep? Do they get enough sleep? Do they like studying so much?

4. Does Korea have an abundance of oil, coal, gas, iron ore, gold, copper and other minerals?

5. Korean students outperform British students in math. Is this right or wrong?

6. Has South Korea’s economy been very successful? Did the economy, industry and technology develop gradually or rapidly?

7. “But Korea’s success has come at a cost. Korea’s phenomenal success has come at a real price.” What does this mean?


A. How would you describe your own schooling?

B. What things did you like and dislike about your school?

C. Our country should adopt South Korea’s educational system. What do you think?

D. Should South Korea reform its system? Do you think your schooling system should change?

E. What will happen in the future?


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