High Performance, High Pressure in South Korea's education system:

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South Korea has been lauded for having an education system that helped transform the country and rapidly grow its economy over the past 60 years. Today, its high-performing students are the envy of many nations worldwide. But with graduate unemployment on the rise, and increasing concerns about the human cost of performance pressure, some are starting to question whether South Korea’s intense education system needs a rethink. In today’s post we take a look at the context for education in Korea and what current trends could mean for university enrolment domestically and abroad.

High investment

Education is a serious matter for South Korea. The country invested heavily in education during the second half of the 20th century, and in 2010, spent 7.6% of its GDP on all levels of education – significantly more than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 6.3%. During that same year, South Korea spent 2.6% on tertiary education, a figure also above the OECD average of 1.6%.

In 2009, spending on private tuition in South Korea was the highest as a proportion of GDP among OECD countries, and according to the Ministry of Education, South Koreans spent 19 trillion won ($17.9 billion USD) on private tuition in 2012. Overall, education accounted for nearly 12% of consumer spending in 2012 – a large amount of which went toward extra English classes.

What’s driving these levels of investment? As reported in The Economist, it’s competition for college places:

Read more: South Korea

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