Korea’s higher ed obsession peaks

South Korea’s obsessive pursuit of higher education has peaked, reports The Economist. The proportion of high-school graduates going on to college soared from 40 percent in the early 1990s to almost 84 percent in 2008. Now it’s going down slightly. Still, 93 percent of parents say they want their children to go to college.

Education — including private tutoring to prepare for the “brutally competitive” university exam — accounted for nearly 12 percent of consumer spending last year.

In 1971 (the government) abolished the entrance exam for middle school, but that only heightened the competition for high-school places, so a few years later it replaced the high-school entrance exam with a lottery. The result was the insanely competitive university entrance exam. By easing competition at one stage of education, it only intensified it at the next.

In 1980 the government outlawed private out-of-school tutoring, which drove the industry underground. The ban was declared unconstitutional in 2000. Since then efforts to soothe the education fever have been more modest. Seoul imposes a 10pm curfew on cramming schools, but pupils can dodge the curfew by learning online after hours. The government will introduce test-free semesters in all middle schools by 2016 to give pupils some relief from rote learning.

Korea has created vocational Meister schools. For example, one high school trains students to program and design mobile apps.

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