Supplemental Teaching and the Korean Student.

What is supplemental teaching?

Supplemental teaching (ST) has different meanings in different contexts. In this blog, I will define it as: “Teaching students after school in specific subject areas to help them academically. This can take place in the form of tutoring, academies and after-school programs”

A short history of how ST started in South Korea:

Korea has a very long and detailed history. I want to start around the Joseon dynasty. The Korean people were in a culture of Confucianism and classes based on your family history and education. The dynasty ended and Korea was invaded by Japan and shortly after by North Korea. Finally, they gained independence and the new government had a monumental task of having to lift South Korea out of the rumbles of occupation and war. So the new government decided to build its governance on (and here we can see the first major impact of government policy on education in Korea) a social system in which a person’s position and responsibilities in society depend on their abilities and intelligence not on their parents or wealth. (THIS IS GREAT! Everyone gets to become something more and not judge by society because of their parent’s status or lack of wealth). (1) (2)

Well, in theory, this would work but the government might have underestimated people’s fierce drive to improve their status in society and so the competition for getting into universities increased, which led to universities setting their own entrance exams. (3) This then caused students to study more to meet these new standards and be able to enter the top universities in South Korea. Parents felt that government schools were letting them down and were not suited to effectively prepare their students for the ever more demanding university entrance exams. So they employed outside help to give their students the help and “quality” education they needed. Enter the Korean “cram schools- hagwons- academies”. Here is where the government employed a second policy that affected education to some means: They made it illegal for students and parents to make use of private tutoring and hagwons. Whistleblowers were rewarded and trespassers of the law were punished. No one spoke of supplemental or extra helped students acquired.(1) (4)

In 2000 the Supreme Court in Korea ruled that it was unconstitutional to prohibit supplemental teaching services and made it legal for parents to send their children to these academies.(2) Supplemental teaching took off as the demand for better education increased. Academies in Korea are first business and second a place that provides education. These academies determine their own staff. As with government policies foreign teachers require an E2 visa. The E2 visa can only be given to employee’s who have a minimum Bachelor’s degree in any field, (For public schools there are even more requirements) this, however, does not ensure the quality of teaching.

So far it is easy to see the direct and purposeful influence the National, municipal government has had on Supplemental teaching in South Korea. They have made, revised and abolished laws and policies that affect not only the providers of these services but the students as well. The policies of for education in 2016 seems to be addressing some of these previous problems making universities accountable for stepping outside the national curriculum and placing more undue stress on students. (5)

International organizations and institutes that have measured and done research on how Korean students perform compared to other countries include OECD and PISA. Korean students rank among the top countries when compared to math and science. Korea has one of the best education systems in the world second only to Finland (6)  who still outrank them by a fair margin even though students spend about half the time studying compared to Korean students who study up to 5.5 hours studying outside of school per day and spend 7 days a week doing so (7)(8). This brings in another big policy that was recently challenged by Korean parents in court. The MET has placed a curfew on the hour’s students are allowed to spend at academies most municipalities have 10 pm curfew. This is strongly enforced with the help of police force and whistleblowers. However, this policy is adjusted from province to province and not similar nationwide. Parents in Seoul, Korea’s, biggest city petition for the curfew to be raised to 11 pm! The government held firm and curfew is set to remain 10 pm for the foreseeable future. (9) (2)

The pressure for students to succeed in due to these government goals and university standards are immense. Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and a big factor to this is young children, being pressured by parents from a young age to succeed academically. When they fail (even at small test or tasks) the pressure can be too great to bear. This is a cause of concern for both national and international level organizations involved in making policies related to children and education. UNICEF and UNESCO have very close ties to most countries and have a broad influence that they can use to help change take place on a national level. However, they are more involved in the general policy development that governments and local agencies adopt to better their own systems. There are remarkable similarities between the policies of UNESCO and UNICEF, compared to the Korean Law(2). UNICEF has priorities that pro-child and advocate for child rights and well-being. They help promote these priorities by having forums, programs, workshops and other platforms to advocate for children. (10)(11)As long as the pressure on Korean students remains they will suffer and not really gain any great benefit from the supplemental teaching. Pressure is added from the OECD and PISA testing whose main measures and compares students across countries to better understand educational systems being used (12) (13).  Doing well on these test is a matter of national pride and so, in my opinion, might not cause governments to place more emphasis on testing to perform better year after year.

Looking at a study done by Gallup a few years ago: they took a group of students who had reading potential (they were already good at reading and reading was a strength) and a group of non-readers (students who were struggling with reading). Both groups were placed in the same reading program to help improve reading. The results were pretty clear and interesting. The group of non-readers completed the program and had gain marginal but not exceptional increase in abilities. They were better than before but not to a high degree. The reader group however improved exponentially. From the Gallup standpoint, supplemental teaching can help struggling students improve to become sufficient. However, it can dramatically improve students who are skilled or gifted at something. That is also my view on ST.


  1. Dalporto, D. South Korea’s school success. (2013, April) Shelton. Date retrieved December 5, 2016.
  2. Kwang, S. (2009) Hagwon curfew ruled constitutional. Seoul. Date retrieved December 2, 2016.
  3. Lee, Jin. (2011) Policies on supplemental education in Korea. Illinois. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  4. MOE (2016) Major Policies and Plans for 2016. Seoul. Date retrieved December 4, 2016.
  5. MOLEG. (2016) FRAMEWORK ACT ON EDUCATION. Seoul. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  6. National Center for Education statistics (2012) Program for International Student Assessment. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  7. NCEE. (2016) South Korean overview. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  8. NCIC (Unknown) Education system of Korea. Seoul. Retrieved December 3, 2016.;jsessionid=244C33C75208E431CAFB98D6FB62548
  9. The Economist. (2015, September) Seoul. Date retrieved: December 2, 2016.
  10. Unknown. (2014, May) OECD and PISA tests are damaging education worldwide. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  11. UNESCO (2016) Learning to live together. Date retrieved December 5, 2016.
  12. UNICEF (2016) Data, monitoring, and evaluation. Date retrieved December 5, 2016.
  13. Yoon, J. (2009) Korean students study 8 hours a day. Seoul. Date retrieved December 4, 2016.



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