Delving Deeper into the Korean Education System

I was impressed by some comments on my work (Thanks Irene J!!!), which then prompted me to research some more and delve a little deeper into my topic– the Korean education system. Irene mentioned that “the best students go to top schools because they make the requirements”. However, these “requirements” to get into the top tier schools have less to do with merit and more to do with family background, higher socio-economic status, private tutoring, etc…Yes, this is a problem that is common in most industrialized countriesà money>merit.

For example, an article I ran into during my research explains that “With the practice of private tutoring virtually universal, the cost of education has become an enormous economic burden for most, especially for less-than-well-to-do families. Private educational cost for parents in Korea is much higher than in most OECD countries, although the school fees are the same under the High School Equalization Policy. The vast expenditures on private tutoring, including individual or group tutoring, instruction at for-profit institutions, self-study, internet tutoring, training abroad, and after-class lessons within schools, have given children from wealthier families a significant advantage in the competition to get into the best schools” (Ihm Chon-sun). Again, I am not saying this phenomenon is particular to South Korean – however, there is a higher correlation between wealth and getting into top tier schools in South Korea than in the US.  

Some of the lower tier schools I was able to visit are great, but they are missing the name, and as such are largely unknown except to those who belong to certain established communities (the arts, communications, etc…).

If there was one thing I would like to change, it would not necessarily be the education system or even people’s attitude toward the educations system, but the way in which the lower tier schools are perceived. Let me elaborate– As mentioned above, personal wealth has A LOT to do with getting into the top tier schools. This has become an established aspect of the system, and over time, the top tiers schools have become synonymous with rich students. It is usually just assumed that a student at one of the top schools comes from a wealthy family. In this same vein, students at the lower tiered schools, however smart, then become synonymous with a sort of “proletariat” image –which is more of a stigma for the students and their parents, even though the lower tier schools are perfectly capable of fully educating their students.


  1. Anna Mahalak says:

    Hi Anushya! My research has also been focusing on education, and I was interested to read your thoughts on the Korean education system. It is interesting how even in the most developed countries like Korea, wealth and connections still has so much to do with academics over merit. The same is true however even in poorer less developed countries like Bosnia. This poor country also has a deep problem with academic integrity. do you think there is a link between wealth and academic integrity? Certainly even in the U.S. wealth affords certain advantages for students, but to what extent I wonder does it go from wealth helping them get into the schools because wealth provides them opportunites for tutoring, etc. or wealth provides them power and connections to get in the school without merit.

  2. Hey Anna!!! That’s so cool that you are researching education as well!!! To answer your question, I think there is a substantial link between wealth and academic integrity, or more accurately lack of integrity. I think it is a combination of networking, connections, as well as just plain better opportunities that helps the wealthier students get admission into the top tiered academies. What surprises me in Korea is the extent to which this phenomenon has become an established part of the system, and as such, people feel powerless in trying to change it. Good luck with your research!!!

  3. In reading your comments about wealth I was wondering how wealth impacted the psyches of these Korean students. Are wealthier students, whose parents are able to spend more on private tutoring and those who are expected to go to the top universities more stressed? Or are those students with less wealth and less access to the top schools more likely to feel stressed or depressed by their lack of opportunities? It is also interesting how you addressed the fact that almost a class mentality between school tiers has emerged. Does this have the potential to cause a significant rift in society? Thanks a lot.

  4. Hey jelassin!! Thanks for your comment!!!
    From my research, it seems the students with less wealth are under much more pressure, especially since they do not have a safety net in the form of wealthy parents. It seems a rift in society already exists, albeit in a less obvious manner. There is resentment, but there is also a groupthink that says any form of welath in Korea is great because that means Korea is doing well, which then grants me the opportunity to reach that level. Hope this answered your question!