korea private tutoring

A Tale of two Koreas: North and South crack down on Private Tutoring

I briefly mentioned the two stories at the beginning of our Sunday Review yesterday. But as South Korea’s education system is often hailed as one of the best in the world and we still know so little about North Korea I wanted to make sure that you don’t miss out on them.

I find it quite fascinating that two states that are politically so totally opposed to one another came to the same conclusions regarding their education systems as both governments feel that private education is deteriorating the public education system.

According to Andrei Lankov, North Korea expert and professor at the Kookmin university in Seoul, the boom in private tutoring in North Korea began ten years ago. Largely driven by the country’s political elite and people who can afford it, private lessons for music, IT and English were the most popular subjects.

Now North Korean leaders seem to crack down on both private tutoring service providers and their customers in order to level the playing field for getting into college. But as Lankov points out, due to the current political system only elites have access to higher education, anyway so this won’t get children of farmers or laborers into Kim Il Sung University.

Also, corruption seems to play a key role in North Korea’s education system lately. Money can decide about a college application or change test scores. This is of course also true outside of North Korea as we recently saw with the student visa application fraud in the UK.

In South Korea the National Assembly passed a bill that will ban advanced teaching in schools. Advanced teaching means that elementary, middle and high schools as well as universities have taught material beyond the scope of the official curriculum. The new law bans those practices including tests that would require students to learn beyond the curriculum.

To keep up with the ever increasing pace students had no chance but to take private tutoring which apparently led to excessive growth and has put high financial and emotional burden on South Korean households.

Interestingly, the ban of advanced teaching was also one of the campaign pledges of South Korean president Park Geun-hye during her 2012 presidential race which underlines the importance of the topic in the country.

With regards to our EDUKWEST event in London last month in which we explored the thriving tutoring industry in the UK more in detail and the traditionally strong after school market in a country like Germany we can conclude that their children’s education deeply matters to parents around the globe no matter what political system they live in.

That said, it will be interesting to follow up on this trend to see whether in Europe it will assume alarming proportions similar to what we sometimes see in Asian societies as I mentioned above.


Picture via Miss Maisem

Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at KirstenWinkler.com and the future of learning at Disrupt Education. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

  • Tay Jung

    As always, interesting article Kirsten;) If you don’t mind, I’d like to attach a brief comment to the article. Especially since North Korea is my intended future reseach focus.
    I think the problem regarding private education and the entailing social inequality is much more severe in the south… As for the north Korean situation, I actually think it belongs to the countries that successfully maintain a high level of education without resorting to the private sector. As far as I’m informed, the elites sometimes may resort to private tutoring, but such practice is not so widespread as to effectively prevent students from humble backgrounds from winning the competition for university entrance, as is the case in South Korea these days. The so-called expert claims on North Korean affairs usually require extra confirmation (which is often difficult) since they are often generated by people or institutions with a preset political orientation.

    As mentioned in the article, the new law banning the teaching of advanced material shows the severity of the problem of private tutoring in South Korea, which could arguably classified as rent seeking activity, since it merely tranfers welfare from one social party to another without increasing overall welfare. This law is largely met with disapproval not only for its overly oppressive nature but also for its questionable effectiveness, considering that it does not address the root of the problem.