South Korea vs U.S. Education: New Report Examines Key Differences

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learningcurveIn many ways, the United States is a global superpower. In the education arena, however, it doesn’t always top the list. In fact, when compared to the educational systems in other developed countries, the US came in at number 17.

Pearson recently released their global report on education, which looks at major factors in education, such as expenditure per student, GDP, graduation rates, etc. Two countries topped Pearson’s list. One is Finland, which probably comes as no surprise since we’ve talked about education in Finland before.

But the other country that topped the list might be more surprising – South Korea. According to their report, there are some pretty glaring differences between their education and ours. Let’s take a look at some interesting bits of information:

Public Expenditure on Education as a Percentage of Total Government Expenditure

South Korea: 15.7%
United States: 13%

Graduation Rate at Upper Secondary Level

South Korea: 94%
United States: 76.8%

Pupil-Teacher Ratio (Primary School)

South Korea: 20.9
United States: 13.6


South Korea: 3.4%
United States: 9%

School Days Per Year

South Korea: 220
United States: 180

Why Is There Such A Difference?

The chart toppers – Finland and South Korea – differ greatly in methods of teaching and learning. They also have several characteristics in common that lack in the United States.

First, these two countries have a strong social belief that education should be highly valued. They feel strongly that education has an underlying moral purpose. Additionally, teachers in Finland and South Korea have a higher status in society. These two cultures acknowledge the role teachers play and appreciate their efforts. Add to that the parents’ grand expectations and you have a vastly different situation than the US.

A South Korean Education

Since we’ve already talked about Finland in past posts, we’ll focus a bit on South Korea here. There,  educational success is attributed to private investment. The parents of school age children spend nearly 25% of their income on their children’s education. A great portion of that is devoted to supplementary educational materials and tutors. Why? Only 30% of formal learning comes through schooling. The rest is acquired through supplementary measures.

The average (arduous) educational journey of a South Korean student begins at the age of three and continues until the student succeeds in the field of science or engineering. This outlook drives the country’s existence. During exam time, there are perceptible changes in the society’s dynamics. Businesses open late to accommodate parents who were up late helping their children study. And while the rest of the world looks on their educational system enviously, South Korea feels an extreme pressure to do even better.

Technology Integration

There are a myriad of factors that play into the different educational models. One of the most obvious, however, might be the role that technology plays in schools. In South Korea, technology is deeply engrained in everyday life. As home to tech superstars like Samsung and LG, one might not expect otherwise.  Since technology has such a high value in all aspects of life, it is not surprising to learn the country has woven it into their educational system as well.

A few factoids about technology and access in South Korea gives a pretty good idea about why adopting technology as a part of education is only natural.

  • South Korea was the first country in the world to provide high speed internet access to every primary, junior, and high school.
  • The country has the world’s fastest average home internet connection speeds.
  • There is a strong prevalence of technology in after school activities like trips to the internet café or cram schools.
  • KERIS (the government research institute and education agency) devotes the largest portion of the budget to acquisition of hardware and modernizing class facilities, internet access, and equipment maintenance.
  • A main priority of KERIS is to increase the number of ubiquitous-learning (u-learning) classrooms.
  • By 2015, all subjects at all levels in all schools will be taught with digital textbooks. Students will use a combination of desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones.
  • In an attempt to minimize the cost of supplementary educational resources, KERIS has launched a cyber, home-learning system specifically designed to facilitate self-directed learning.
  • EDUNET is an educational information service. Students can access a huge storehouse of quality educational content. Images, modules, videos and more are all arranged by curriculum topic. In 2010, just over 6.1 of 7.7 million students were using EDUNET.
  • Students can watch and download lectures via the country’s Educational Broadcasting Services on the Internet (EBSi).
  • The National Education Information Service (NEIS) helps reduce teacher workload by streamlining procedures; most administrative procedures can be done in one step. Additionally, the data system helps teachers know the students better because they can access exam results, assessments, and health information all in one place.
  • South Korea also uses a School Information Disclosure System. Both students and parents can log in to access information about the school. The hope is to increase the parents’ participation in the children’s education even more.

Do you think that the efforts to make technology access more mainstream influences the adoption of technology for education purposes? Could you see your country doing something similar, and do you think it would change how your school uses technology?