NCIC - National Curriculum Information Center

  • Introduction
  • National Curriculum Of Korea
  • Curriculum Resources
  • Q&A

Education System of Korea

1. The Development of Education

A. Pre-Modern Education (Until the 19th Century)

The informal education which can be traced back to the prehistoric times ended with the establishment of "Taehak" in the year 372 during the Goguyreo era which is known as the earliest form of a formal education. Curriculum consisted of ethics education focused on cultivating the morals of the students and educating the general public based on Confucianism and Buddhism. Modern schools first introduced in the 19th century comprised national and private education institutes established by Christian missionaries and members of the independence movement. From this period onward, many private schools founded by Western missionaries began to appear nationwide.
At that time, national leaders who resisted the Japanese intrusion pressed for the "movement to save the nation through education." Their primary focus was on educating future leaders who would achieve national independence. After liberation from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule in 1945, a foundation for democratic education was established. Education in Korea has undergone numerous transformations and development through changing objectives according to the needs of the times, The government set the direction for democratic education, expanding basic education to enhance democracy, quantitative growth in education, education reform, and qualitative growth of education.
B. Expansion of Democratic Education (1945~1950s)

In order to lay the foundation for democratic education after liberation in 1945, education policies were directed toward the following objectives within the framework of the Constitution. The Education Law was enacted and promulgated followed by the provision for educational autonomy and the implementation of compulsory education.

- The compilation and distribution of primary school textbooks
- Reform of the school ladder system to a single track system following a 6-3-3-4 pattern
- Adult education for literacy and supplementary in-service training for teachers
- Incremental expansion of educational opportunities for secondary and higher education and the creation of teacher colleges.

Even during the Korean war, education continued to play a pivotal role in overcoming the nation"s crisis and playing a leading role in the nation"s reconstruction after the war. The revival of education emphasized the role of Korean education in fulfilling the missions of overcoming the national crisis and leading the reconstruction efforts.

- Initiation of the curriculum revision project
- Standard national admission test for applicants to junior high schools
- Establishment of national public universities and the promulgation of the "Wartime Emergency Education Act".
C. Quantitative Expansion in the 1960s and 1970s

With the rapid economic growth, significant changes took place in many spheres of life. In the management of such changes, efforts were made to achieve rapid quantitative growth in the education sector. The most outstanding feature of educational development in Korea during the 1960s was its quantitative expansion in student population, education facilities, and the number of teachers. Such a rapid growth in student population inevitably resulted in over-crowded classrooms, oversized schools, a shortage of fully qualified teachers and educational facilities, as well as intense competition in the college entrance system. Such shortfalls necessitated the reform of the entrance examination system to normalize education at all school levels.

- Teacher/Education Reform
- Establish the Graduate School of Education to carry out the functions of in-service training and education for teachers
- Abolish the middle school entrance examination
- Improve the local university system and establish junior colleges
- Establish broadcast and correspondence colleges and high schools
- Institutionalize a standard examination as a preliminary screening mechanism for the college entrance examination in an effort to normalize high school education
- Upgrade general high schools to two-year colleges of education to train primary school teachers. Institutions training secondary school teachers upgraded to four-year teacher colleges.
Expansion of Primary School Education (1945-2002)
Year 1945 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2001 2002
Schools 2,834  4,496  5,961  6,487  6,335  5,267  5,322  5,384 
Teachers 19,729  61,605  101,095  119,064  136,800  140,000  142,715  147,497 
Students 1,366,685  3,622,685  5,749,301  5,658,002  4,868,520  4,019,991  4,089,429  4,138,366 

Year 1945 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2001 2002
Schools 166  1,053  1,608  2,121  2,470  2,731  2,770  2,809 
Teachers 1,186  13,053  31,207  54,858  89,719  92,589  93,385  95,283 
Students 80,828  528,593  1,318,808  2,471,997  2,275.751  1,860,539  1.831,152  1,841,030 
Expansion of High School Education (1945-2002)
Year 1945 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2001 2002
Schools 307  640  889  1,353  1,683  1,957  1,969  1,995 
Teachers 1,720  9,627  19,854  50,948  92,683  104,351  104,314  114,304 
Students 40,271  273,434  590,382  1,696,792  2,283,806  2,071,468  1,911,173  1,795,509 
Expansion of University (Higher) Education (1945-2002)
Year 1945 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2001 2002
Schools 19  85  232  357  556  1,184  1,261  1,303 
Teachers 1,490  3,808  10,435  20,900  41,920  79,136  83,116  86,441 
Students 7,819  101,041  201,436  601,494  1,490,809  3,363,549  3,500,560  3,577,447 

D. Qualitative Development in the 1980s

The innovative efforts of the previous decade to modernize the educational system were carried over into the 1980s, particularly in those aspects related to the normalization and improvement of educational quality. The government of the Fifth Republic promoted an educational policy which stressed the success of education.

The 1980"s was a period of qualitative development and normalization of the education system. Under its education innovation policies, the Fifth Republic was the first to stipulate the need for lifelong education in the constitution, an emphasis of education to raise wholesome citizens of society and education innovation to pursue science and lifelong education. The following measures were introduced to achieve such goals:

- Build a broadcasting system dedicated exclusively to education programs
- Implement college graduation quota system
- Create the educational tax system to finance educational reforms
- The main entrance examination was abolished. High school achievements were given heavier weight in determining qualification
- Establish the Social Education Act and Early Education Promotion Act.

The Commission for Educational Reform was inaugurated as the consultative body for the President in March 1985. Ten education innovation measures listed below were proposed to be implemented by December 1985 for the purpose of "Cultivating Koreans to Lead the 21st Century."

- Reform the education system - Improve the college entrance system
- Upgrade school facilities
- Secure high quality teachers
- Promote science education
- Improve the curriculum and methodology
- Improve college education
- Promote autonomy in education administration
- Establish a lifelong education system
- Expand education investments.

The above objectives have been pursued on a continuous basis. In May 1988, the Advisory Council for Educational Policy for the Minister of Education and Human Resources Development was established.
E. Human Education Preparing for Future Society - the 1990s and Beyond

Korean education in the 1990s emphasized human education preparing for the future on the basis of the pursuit of quality in education in the 1980s. Effective December 27, 1990, the Ministry of Education streamlined its organization with the clarification of its role. New laws for the promotion of local autonomy were enacted.
Through the pursuit of achieving basic value and welfare of education, education policies have largely focused on upgrading the education system since 1990. Expanding the scope of mandatory education, widening the supply of secondary education services, and enlarging opportunities for higher education all contributed to the fulfillment of personal goals and national development.
The 8th Five-Year Plan for Economic & Social Development (1997-2001) focused on the future by producing well-rounded citizens, pursuing efficiency, enhancing independence, and building balance to expand education opportunities. Plans for education reform were first announced on May 31, 1995 which successfully continue to the present.
2. Overview of School Education

A. School Ladder System

Korea has a single-track 6-3-3-4 system which maintains a single line of school levels in order to ensure that every citizen can receive primary, secondary, and tertiary education without discrimination and according to the ability of each student.
The existing education act was replaced by the Basic Education Act, the Primary and Secondary Education Act, and the Higher Education Act in 1998. The Primary and Secondary Education Act covers education issues dealing with pre-school, primary and secondary education while the Higher Education Act pertains to matters related to higher education.
Article 9 of the Basic Education Act stipulates that "Schools shall be established to provide preschool, primary, secondary and higher education." According to Article 2 of the Primary and Secondary Education Act, "The following types of schools shall be established for preschool, primary and secondary education."

1) Kindergartens
2) Primary Schools, Civic Schools
3) Middle Schools, Civic High Schools
4) High Schools, Trade High Schools
5) Special Schools
6) Miscellaneous Schools.

Article two of the Higher Education Act also stipulates that "The following types of schools shall be established for higher education."

1) Universities
2) Industrial Universities
3) Teachers Colleges
4) Junior Colleges
5) Air & Correspondence Universities
6) Technical Colleges
7) Miscellaneous Schools.
School System (2007)
Classification Schools Students Teachers
Total National Public Private
Total 19,865  96  13,787  5,982  11,883,628  506,682 
Kindergartens 8,294  4,445  3,846  541,550  33,504 
Subtotal 5,757  17  5,664  76  3,830,063  167,185 
Primary Schools 5,756  17  5,664  75  3,829,998  167,182 
Civic Schools 65 
Subtotal 3,044  10  2,372  662  2,067,656  108,195 
Middle Schools 3,032  2,371  652  2,063,159  107,986 
Civic High Schools 191  10 
Miscellaneous Schools 4,306  199 
Subtotal 2,218  17  1,246  955  1,862,501  120,585 
High Schools 1,457  12  792  653  1,347,363  83,662 
Vocational High Schools 702  408  289  494,011  36,549 
Air & Correspondence
High Schools
39  39  14,285 
Trade High Schools 12  12  3,378  137 
Miscellaneous Schools 2,764  230 
Special Schools 144  50  89  23,147  6,256 
Subtotal 152  141  800,423  11,713 
Junior Colleges 148  137  795,519  11,685 
Colleges attached to
industrial firms
Distance Learning
4,769  21 
Miscellaneous Schools 53 
Subtotal 220  41  177  2,461,712  56,349 
Universities 175  23  150  1,919,504  52,763 
Teachers Colleges 11  11  25,834  855 
Industrial Universities 14  169,862  2,190 
Technical Colleges 139 
Broadcast & Correspondence Universities 272,763  136 
Distance Learning
15  15  72,454  386 
Colleges attached to
Industial firms
Miscellaneous Schools 1,061  18 
Subtotal 36  36  296,576  2,895 
Graduate Schools at
<1,006>  <168>  <14>  <824>  291,215  2,416 
Graduate Schools 36  36  5,361  479 
* 1. The number of faculty for graduate schools includes only full time professors.
   2. < >reflects status of graduate schools and is excluded from the total figure.
   3. Does not include branch schools.
B. Curriculum and Textbooks

1) Curriculum

The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development oversees the national school curriculum, as designated by Article 23 of the Primary and Secondary School Education Law, in order to insure equal educational opportunity for all and maintain the quality of education. The national curriculum and regional guidelines accord flexibility to individual schools in accordance with the particular characteristics and objectives of each school.
The national curriculum is revised on a periodic basis to reflect the newly rising demands for education, emerging needs of a changing society, and new frontiers of academic disciplines.
Curriculum standards serve as the basis for educational contents at each school and for textbook development. The government has undergone seven curriculum revisions to meet national and social needs as well as to keep up with the changes in consideration of various factors related to research development.
Changes in the Curriculum of Primary, Secondary and Higher Education System
Announced Legislation Curriculum Features
1st Apr. 20, 1954
Aug. 1, 1955
MOE Ordinance #35
MOE Ordinance #44
MOE Ordinance #45
MOE Ordinance #46
Ordinance on class time assignment Primary School Curriculum Middle School Curriculum High School Curriculum Curriculum centered around school education.

Feb. 15, 1963

MOE Ordinance #119
MOE Ordinance #120
MOE Ordinance #121
Primary School Curriculum Middle School Curriculum High School Curriculum -Experiential Curriculum
-Chinese Letters education(72)
-Military Exercise(69)
3rd Feb. 14, 1973
Aug. 31, 1973
Dec. 31, 1974
MOE Ordinance #310
MOE Ordinance #325
MOE Ordinance #350
Primary School Curriculum Middle School Curriculum High School Curriculum -Curriculum focused on academic enrichment
-Korean History(73)
-Japanese Language(73)
4th Dec. 31, 1981 MOE Notice #442 Primary School Curriculum Middle School Curriculum High School Curriculum -Emphasis on national spirit
-Reduction/coordination of learning amount
-Intergrated curriculum management for 1st and 2nd year primary schools
5th Mar. 31, 1987 Jun. 31, 1987 Mar. 31, 1988 MOE Notice #87-7
MOE Notice #87-9
MOE Notice #88-7
Primary School Curriculum Middle School Curriculum High School Curriculum -Science High Schools and Arts High schools
-Integrated curriculum for primary schools
-New subjects: Information industry
-Emphasis on economics education
-Emphasis on regional characteristics
6th Jun. 31, 1992 Sep. 31, 1992 Oct. 30, 1992 Nov. 1, 1995 MOE Notice #1992-11
MOE Notice #1992-16
MOE Notice #1992-19
MOE Notice #1995-7
Middle School Curriculum Primary School Curriculum High School Curriculum Primary School Curriculum -Improvement of organization/management system
-Sharing roles among the government, region, and schools
-New subjects: Computer, environment, Russian language. career/vocation
-Specialized subjects on foreign language
-Primary school English
7th Dec. 31, 1997 Jun. 31, 1998 MOE Notice #1997-15
MOE Notice #1998-10
MOE Notice #1998-11
Primary/secondary curriculum Kindergarten curriculum Special education curriculum Vocational high school curriculum -Curriculum centered around the students
-Curriculum on basic national curriculum
-Selection-based high school curriculum
-Level-based curriculum
-Establishment and expansion of independent activities
-Objective(Competence)-based Curriculum
-Expansion of regional and school independence
The Seventh Curriculum introduced on December 30, 1997 was initially applied to primary first and second grade students in the 2000 school year and has gradually been expanded to 12th grade students in 2004. The application of curricula in primary schools started with the 1st and 2nd grades in 2000, followed by the 3rd and 4th grades in 2001 and the 5th and 6th grades in 2002.

To prepare students for the 21st century, the era of globalization and knowledge-based society, the Seventh Curriculum attempts to break away from the spoon-fed and short-sighted approach to education of the past towards a new approach in the classroom to produce human resources capable of facing new challenges. Study loads for each subject has been reduced to an appropriate level, while curricula that accommodate different needs of individual students were also introduced. Independent learning activities to enhance self-directed learning required in the knowledge-based society have either been introduced or expanded.

Thus, the Seventh Curriculum is a student-oriented curriculum emphasizing individual talent, aptitude, and creativity, unlike the curriculum of the past. The Seventh Curriculum defines the desired image of an educated person as follows:
① A person who seeks individuality as the basis for the growth of the whole personality
② A person who exhibits a capacity for fundamental creativity
③ A person who pioneers a career path within the wide spectrum of culture
④ A person who creates new value on the basis of understanding the national culture
⑤ A person who contributes to the development of the community on the basis of democratic civil consciousness.

The Seventh Curriculum consists of the Basic Common Curriculum and the Selected Curriculum at the high school level.The Seventh Curriculum covers ten years from the first year of primary school through the first year of high school.
The general public is able to receive the necessary basic education required for everyday life.

During the 11th and 12th grades in high school, students are given the opportunity to chose their curriculum and courses they wish to take so that they may benefit from education that facilitates their future path.
2) Textbook

Textbooks and teachers" manuals are developed within the framework of the national curriculum. The textbooks compiled within the framework of the curricula are classified into three types. Type one are those which copyrights are held by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development. The textbooks which are authorized by the Minister of Education and Human Resources Development and published by private publishers comprise type two. Type three is recognized by the Minister of Education and Human Resources Development as relevant and useful.

For kindergarten, a collection of instructional materials for teachers has been developed as Type One textbooks. The primary school curriculum has changed from the one textbook per subject rule of the past to the present practice of permitting multiple textbooks per subject, so that a variety of Type One textbooks are being developed for primary school education. With the introduction of more comprehensive English education in 1997, English textbooks are also being published.

School subjects at the high school level are largely divided into regular subjects designed for academic high schools and specialized subjects for vocational and other specialized high schools. High school textbooks are largely divided into basic course textbooks and textbooks for the advanced level. Most regular course textbooks, with the exception of the Korean language, ethics, and Korean history must be authorized by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development. Most textbooks for the advanced level are developed by research organizations and universities commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development. Plans to convert government authorized textbooks into those approved by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development are currently under consideration.

[Source] Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST)