The education system of South Korea is overseen by the central Ministry of Education. Since 2008, there has been a shift toward greater autonomy for the 17 metropolitan/provincial education offices. These offices now oversee school budgets and school inspection, although the national Ministry retains control over policy frameworks such as the national school curriculum. Each school has its own school council with some degree of autonomy in terms of promoting teachers or arranging professional development. Local school boards are elected positions, and more than 50 percent of board members are required by law to have at least 10 years of experience in education. The Ministry of Health and Welfare shares the responsibility for children under age five with the Ministry of Education.
About 13 percent of schools in South Korea are private, most at the secondary school level. Private schools receive public funding. In return, they do not charge school fees for compulsory education and cannot charge higher fees for upper secondary than those public schools charge. Private schools adhere to the National Curriculum and teachers are required to meet the same standards for teacher certification. The key difference is that teachers are employed directly by the school rather than by the Ministry which means that they are not required to rotate among schools, as are public school teachers. In 2009, the government granted increased autonomy for curriculum and student selection to a small group of private upper secondary schools referred to as autonomous schools, which can charge higher tuition fees and do not receive government subsidy.
School funding is very centralized, with the Ministry of Education providing more than 75 percent of school funding. The remaining budget is from provincial/metropolitan funding and admission fees and tuition. Most of the school funding allocation is done at the local level.
Accountability and Incentive Systems
Schools are evaluated annually by external inspectors overseen by the metropolitan/provincial education offices. They complete school inspections based on a Ministry of Education evaluation plan, which sets directions and standards. Since 2012, metropolitan/provincial education offices have been granted greater autonomy in school evaluation, as part of a broader trend toward increased local control. School evaluations review teaching and learning practices, curriculum, and student needs. The Ministry of Education has recently added school-based performance awards in which top-performing schools receive bonuses. School reviews are not used punitively; rather, struggling schools are given advice about how to improve. The results of school evaluations are reported publicly.
Teachers are evaluated each year by their principals, although the principal does not have the power to directly reward or punish teachers based on their evaluations. There are, however, incentives for high performance. One major incentive is the designation of Master Teacher, a leadership role. Additional incentives include bonuses and study abroad opportunities.
Support for Low-Performing Schools
South Korea provides targeted supports for low-performing schools. The School for Improvement program, which began in 2010, provides extra funding to secondary schools with low performance on the National Assessment of Educational Achievement (NAEA). The NAEA is administered to all students in grades nine and 11. Targeted supports like this have led to a decline in students performing “Below Basic” since the first round of the NAEA in 2008.
Since 2013, primary and lower secondary schools with relatively high proportions of academically underachieving students are designated Do-Dream Schools. Each Do-Dream School receives additional funding to provide parent and student counseling and other supports. Do-Dream Teams of teachers and school leaders work with students to improve their academic performance.