12 Interesting Facts About Korean High Schools in 2024

Filed in Articles by on February 9, 2024

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Facts About Korean High Schools in South Korea are slightly different from what you might be used to in other countries.

It’s intense, competitive, and focused on preparing students for university and the workforce. Korean high schools are especially unique, with a mix of rigorous academics and after-school activities.

Nevertheless, we’ll explore the facts regarding Korean high schools, from their curriculum to their culture. So, get ready to learn more about what life is like for a high school student in South Korea!

korean high schools

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Interesting Facts about Korean High Schools

Here are 12 fascinating facts about Korean High Schools.

 1. Korean High School Students Have a 16 Hour School Day

The average high school student has class from about 8 am until 9:30 pm or 10 pm. For the average Korean high school student, the goal is to get into a good college, and often, the competition is high.

As a result, many will attend a hagwon (a private after-school learning program) to speed up their learning.

Hagwons are private entities, that help reinforce higher education and English skills, so there is often a high demand for them.

Often, they are run strictly like a business, running one class after another, prepping students for exams, and drilling skills with them from the textbook.

For students, this is perhaps, their one social outlet and a way to meet other friends.

Because education is the main extracurricular sport, the average teen doesn’t get home until midnight. Thus, dinner is served at school.

2. School on Saturdays

If you think Korean students have the weekend for recreation, think again. The official school days were originally Monday to Saturday, which didn’t make for carefree students or teachers.

Although, the school schedule has changed and loosened up. Now the Korean public school system has two Saturdays per month, off.

3. Respected Teacher

Teachers hold a valuable and respected place in society. Korea emphasizes education and schooling to the power of a hundred.

As a result, Korea possesses high regard for its Korean teachers as being pillars of the schooling system.

Retirement age isn’t until 65 years old. Seniority means increased pay and the overall work hours, holidays, and vacation benefits are said to be better than regular office jobs.

4. The Business Side of Teaching

Whoever thought I’d be making PowerPoint presentations and saving files on USB memory sticks for my teaching job? Those tools sound like an office job. But these are tools of the trade in my school.

Dress attire? Professional to office casual attire is recommended, starting at elementary school. Korea is a fashionable culture. A nice suit with a jacket or blazer is a good starter as one must look respectable when teaching.

5. The Five-Year Teacher-Principal Rotation Cycle

Teachers rotate schools every five years.  It doesn’t matter if you love your school or not.

After each five-year term, the teachers, vice-principal, and principal undergo a lottery system and have to change schools. Thus, each year, a school may get new staff.

This system is born to give each teacher an equal opportunity to work in excellent schools and bad.

All teaching staff is subject to a valuation system and receive points for exams they take, and workshops they attend as well as, receive incentive points for how well their school ranks in the district.

Also, certain schools are model schools (these are the schools that Korean teachers want to teach at) where they have high-performing students.

And other Korean teachers (and native English teachers like me), will make a trip to see how they run their classes and organize their programs to get their students to focus and learn.

6. Role Playing Via Hollywood Style

Some schools have blue screen technology and/or rooms with “role-playing sets” for kids to enact situations in.

One class example we saw was a market checkout scene. They had aisles, shelves, and a real conveyor belt.

I eventually even worked at a Korean musical camp and we had role-playing rooms from traffic school (I had to wear a police hat and jacket and set up traffic cones).

To a hospital room, with eye charts, stethoscope, height, and weight scales, examination table, wheelchair, and a doctor’s lab coat! Chincha?

7. Corporal Punishment is Still Alive

While in the U.S., corporal punishment of children blares “lawsuit”,  the Korean educational system and parents have less of an issue with physical discipline in school classrooms.

Corporal punishment used to be allowed, and now, is somewhat tolerated,  covertly. It is 2010. The school system is cracking down on this abuse, but it still happens in some schools.

One of my fellow expat friends said they have a disciplinary stick in their school, that Korean teachers use called the “magic wand”.

Usually, the disciplinarian is a teacher. Korea has, however, employed physical discipline for disobedience in the past.

8. Students Take Responsibility for the Cleanliness of their School

One thing I admire about Korean values is that the Korean school system teaches students to be responsible for the care of their school.

While employed janitors do major chores… trash on the school grounds is done by students each morning before the school bell rings!

9. Shoe Etiquette in the Classrooms

Do you know the Asian tradition of taking your shoes off when you enter a house? Yeah, well, it is practiced in the U.S. with my family in Hawaii.

Korean culture and etiquette have a similar tradition as many Asian cultures, as they consider their feet to be dirty; so dirty that in fact, they wear house slippers at home.

But the shoe etiquette goes beyond the house and into the classroom. Students and school staff must remove their outdoor shoes and change into “school slippers” upon entering the building.

10. SAT Exams Preparations

As if High School wasn’t demanding enough, the Korean version of the SAT is one of the most difficult standardized tests in the world. Here’s a bunch of facts on that test alone:

  • Some parents make their kids study for it before they even get to middle school.
  • The test takes place on the same day every year, the second Thursday of November
  • All students take the exam on the same day
  • The exam lasts about 9 and a half hours. No kidding.
  • Because everyone of the same age is doing the same thing at the same time on the same day. Traffic problems occur which lead to
  • Extra buses/trains running during those hours before/after the exam
  • Workers are allowed to show up an hour later to limit traffic
  • Having a quiet atmosphere is essential as well, which leads to
  • A ban on honking horns near schools
  • They changed flight schedules
  • Protests of any kind should not happen
  • Students get treated like GODS on this day
  • Parents will usually bring their kids to school, and there will be loads of people outside CHEERING kids on as they enter the school. “COME ON BEN, ACE THAT EXAM!!!”
  • Underclassmen and past graduates might show up as well to show support.
  • People will be handing out candy, tea, coffee, etc. to people as they walk in, to give them a little energy before the stressful day starts.
  • Taxis might give students free taxi rides
  • The test isn’t the be-all and end-all of your success, but if you get into a top university, you’re on cruise control from there on out. Just like they can be obsessed with personal appearance, the name of the school on your diploma carries a lot of weight from what I’ve read, more so than it does back in the US.

11. Eat What’s in Front of You

There are no options in the cafeteria–you get rice, kimchi, some sort of soup, some sort of meat, and some sort of vegetable.

When I showed them pictures of cafeteria chicken and pizza, my students almost cried again!

12. Home Coming and Prom

No homecoming, prom, etc. Instead, they take senior trips to Japan and middle school graduation trips to Jeju Island. Decent trade, I think.

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