Schools in Seoul are excellent and famed for their academic rigour. Although the fees are extremely high, most expats choose to send their children to international schools as the language of instruction in public schools is Korean, and because many expats find Korean teaching approaches to be too strict.
Public schools in Seoul
Expats moving to Seoul rarely send their children to public schools. The Korean education system is praised for the results its students consistently produce, but very few Westerners would subject their children to the high pressured and singularly focused approach adopted by Korean public schools. Another reason for this is that Korean is the language of instruction in public schools.
Attending primary and middle school is compulsory, but high school attendance is not. In-line with this, public schooling up to the end of middle school is provided for free but parents must pay for high school attendance.
Children usually start kindergarten at the age of three or four and then start primary school at the age of six. Students in South Korea finish school after grade 12 at the age of 18. Primary education lasts for six years followed by three years of middle school and three years of high school.
International schools in Seoul
Expats moving to Seoul with children might find that international school fees are their greatest expense. As a result of Seoul's medium-sized diplomatic community and significant American army population, there is a wide range of international schools to choose from, many of which follow either the International Baccalaureate or the American curriculum.
Most expats send their children to international schools to retain some continuity in their lives, but they should be aware that the South Korean culture of putting great importance on academic achievement does spill over into Seoul’s international schools to some extent. Because of this, expat children might feel more pressure to excel academically than they did in their home countries. There is also a culture of maintaining the utmost respect towards teachers which might be an adjustment for children from more relaxed teaching environments.
Expats sending their children to international schools in Seoul should explore their options as soon as possible, as schools may have long waiting lists. Expat children might also have to be interviewed before they are accepted into an international school.
Special-needs education in Seoul
By law, children in South Korea cannot be refused admission or discriminated against by any school because of disabilities. Education is also free for children with physical and intellectual disabilities from the ages of five to 18 in South Korea.
There are 29 special-needs schools in Seoul, but many children with disabilities attend mainstream schools. Students who spend a lot of time in hospital can also study online while receiving medical treatment.
For a child to attend a school for special needs, they must first be registered as a child with a disability at their local district office. Parents can then apply at the school of their choice.
Not all international schools in Seoul cater for children with special educational needs, and expat parents should therefore check with the relevant school.
Tutoring in Seoul
Tutors can be useful for expat children transitioning into a new school environment, and can be hired for anything from general assistance with school subjects to helping maintain a child's mother tongue or helping them to learn Korean. Differences in education systems may result in expat children being behind in some areas of their new curriculum, and tutors are an excellent way to catch up.
Tutoring in South Korea is a huge industry, so expats will have plenty of choices. Expats should research different options thoroughly before deciding on a tutor. Tutoring can be done one-on-one, through online classes and videos, or by attending a hagwon (private after school academy). Many schools will have a list of tutors or hagwons they can recommend.
Are you an expat living in Seoul?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Seoul. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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