ESL South Korea

Korean Schools

One of the biggest decisions you will have to decide upon before you begin planning a teaching spree to Korea, is what type of school you want to teach in…

If you hold a bachelors degree from an accredited university in one of the seven recognized countries (see entry requirements), you have two main options available, that of private schools and public schools.  Here’s a brief explanation of the differences between the two…

Private Schools
When you hear the word ‘private school’, images of grandeur and tuition splendor might enter your mind, a school filled with snobby rich kids whose parents can afford the best kind of education for their children and send them to the most expensive private schools.  Our idea of private schools however, is very wrong when we’re talking about a Korean setting!  Here’s the difference:

One of the biggest decisions you will have to decide upon before you begin planning a teaching spree to Korea, is what type of school you want to teach in…
In Korea, private schools are called ‘Hagwons’ (That’s a transliteration of the Korean for ‘academy’).  They do not provide a type of schooling that replaces normal schooling, but provide after-school programs for Korean kids to attend AFTER regular school has finished.

Here’s an example:  A Korean child might go to regular school from 9am-3pm and then, afterward attend two or three hagwons for a more few hours.  The older they get, the more hagwons they attend and the more hours per day they study.

Hagwons are an integral part of Korean culture and almost any parent who can afford it will send his or her child to a couple of hagwons a day.  At present, over 90% do.  Korean children study on average 3 hours more per day then their American counterparts and this is primarily due to the important role that after school hagwons plays in this society.

In the west private schools are sparser and a big city might have a dozen or so private schools.  In Korea it’s the complete opposite – Hagwons are EVERYWHERE.  They are almost literally to be found on every corner of every street block in every space and office building of every floor conceivable.  Hagwons have become such a regular part of a child’s schooling that the demand for them is big.  That’s why you can stand in a busy intersection of a city or town and might spot three or four different hagwons just by looking around.

With the government initiated after-school program in the public schools (see below), many have predicted that hagwons will lose clientele and eventually disappear, but this is unlikely to happen in the near future.  To a Korean, going to a hagwons is like eating rice and kimchi, its essential!

Public Schools
As you might guess, public schools are normal government run schools that every Korean child must attend.  The schooling structure follows a similar pattern than that of many western countries:  Grade 1-6 attends Elementary school, Grade 7-9 attends Middle school and High School is for 10-12th graders.  Schooling in Korea normally starts at 9am in the morning and ends anything

from 2-4pm (depending on the level of the students).  Public schools are fast becoming a favourite among foreigners within Korea due to the stable working environment and regular hours.  Recruiting for a public school is done through the Seoul based ‘English Program in Korea’ or EPIK.

Since the mid 2000’s, public schools around the country have started after-shool programs that in one sense performthe same function as the hagwons traditionally did, that of providing extra English tuition for children.  While the competition for the hagwons is certainly good, it will probably not mean the end of the system as we know it, and simply provide a greater choice of after school programs for parents to choose from.

International Schools
This option is only available to professional teachers i.e. people with a  bachelors degree in education and some experience in teaching.  International schools provide great salaries, decent housing and a lot of other cool perks that the other two school types don’t.  If you’ve got the qualification and experience, this should be your first choice.

Most people who come to teach in Korea are not teachers, but usually have a degree in something else, which is why the vast majority work at one of the other two school types.

So which school type is best?  Well, I suppose there is no universal ‘best’ since each person has different circumstances and different preferences.  What I wil do, is give you an overview of the basic work environment and pro’s and con’s of the different school types and help you make an informed decision.