Last updated on May 30th, 2023 at 08:45 am
Can’t get enough of the popular K-drama school 학교 (hakgyo) series like Extraordinary You? How about learning some school-related terms in Korean today?
Hyosan, Shinhwa, and Kirin High School of Art. I know what you’re thinking, Korean drama schools. From the K-dramas Dream High and Boys Over Flowers, we were able to glimpse what schools and education in South Korea look like. You’ll have an idea about how the class goes, how the teachers teach, the students’ uniforms, the schedule, etc. But, if you want to learn more about schools, these K-dramas won’t be enough.
In this blog, let’s pretend that we’re on a field trip and our destinations will be Korean schools 학교 (hakgyo). You might want to pack some school-related terms in Korean, so here is a treat for you.
Education ( 교육 Gyoyuk) In South Korea
School and education are essential in one’s life. This is where you are taught formal education and how to function properly in the adult world. This is basically the time where you will learn all the life skills you need to become a successful and worthy individual in society.
Koreans value education. You can see it in their dramas. Hence, they take education seriously in the competitive schools, curriculum, and education system. But, what is it like to be studying in a Korean school?
Admit it: if you’re an OG K-drama fan, you have once dreamed of wearing the cute skirt with a vest when you’re a girl like Geum Jan-di in Boys Over Flowers. If you’re a boy, you want to experience rocking the uniform, being part of the varsity team, and being in a famous squad. Don’t worry. I completely get you. But, Korean schools are more than just those cutesy uniforms, heartthrob varsity players, and elite squads. They have a high-quality education system that is comparable to the Western countries.
The Korean public education system is divided into three parts: primary school (6 years), middle school (3 years), and high school (3 years). Only approximately 5% of Korea’s secondary schools were coeducational in 1996.
South Korea is the world’s most educated country by some measures. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 70% of 24- to 35-year-olds in the 51.5 million people have completed some form of tertiary education, the highest percentage in the world and more than 20 percentage points higher than comparable rates in the United States.
This is not surprising since we always see how hard they studied in different K-dramas. It is fantastic how Koreans have gone so far in education, given that many illiterate Koreans are starting from the Japanese colonization period. Now, South Korea is one of the fast-growing economies globally, and one of the key factors is the high literacy rate of their people.
Basic School-Related Terms In Korean
After learning some information about Korean education, let us now get into our business. Here are some basic school words that widen your vocabulary.
Every Korean fan somehow dreamed of going to a Korean school like Shinhwa, but I’m sure not Hyosan. So, the first Korean word related to school that you should learn is 학교 (hakgyo), which means school in English. In South Korea, education is given by both public and private schools. Private schools (사립고등학교 saripgodeunghakgyo) receive less funding from the government compared to public schools(국립고등학교 gukripgodeunghakgyo).
The school year begins in early March and is divided into two semesters (학기 hakgi ). The first semester concludes typically in July, after which students have a one-month summer vacation (여름방학 yeoreumbanghak ). School resumes in August and continues until the end of December, just before the commencement of a two-month winter break (겨울방학 gyeoulbanghak).
Here are the top schools in South Korea:
- Korea International School Pangyo Campus
- Dulwich College Seoul
- Yongsan International School of Seoul
- Dwight School Seoul
- Korea Foreign School
- Gyeonggi Suwon International School
- Asia Pacific International School
- Seoul International School
- Korea International School Seoul
In the K-dramas like Hi, Bye Mama, you can see that day-care centers are top-rated, especially if both parents are working. This is not part of the formal education system of South Korea, but it can help the child develop specific skills like language skills, arithmetic, and arts.
Since the initial curriculum was established in 1969, the national kindergarten curriculum has been changed ten times. In 2012, the Nuri Curriculum was introduced for all five-year-olds, and in 2013, it was expanded to include all three and four-year-olds. The Nuri Curriculum is designed to help children develop in five major areas (physical activity, health, communication, social relationships, artistic experience, and natural exploration) to promote healthy mental and physical development.
Here is a list of top pre-schools and kindergartens in South Korea:
- BEK Lodge
- Yongsan International School of Seoul
- ECLC Early Childhood Learning Center
- Seoul Foreign School Early Childhood
- CRADA International Kindergarten
- Dulwich College Seoul – DUCKS
- BEK Bundang
Korean students attend elementary school from eight to thirteen, with grades one through six. You may also be unaware that Korea’s age system differs from the rest of the globe. But this is a separate topic.
Primary school is free and compulsory in Korea, and it provides the general elementary education required in life. The elementary school enrollment percentage is as high as 99.9%.
English has also been taught as part of the regular curriculum since 1997, one hour per week for third and fourth graders and two hours per week for fifth and sixth-grade pupils, to expand foreign language study.
Students progress from elementary school to middle school, including grades 1 through 3. We count up from elementary to high school in most other Western countries. Students in Korea, on the other hand, are classified as 1st-grade middle school students (중학교 1학년 junghakgyo 1haknyeon) when they begin their first year of middle school. A student in third-grade middle school (중학교 3학년 junghakgyo 3haknyeon ) is a student who has been in middle school for three years. Students attend three years of high school after three years of middle school, referred to as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade.
High school is undoubtedly the most memorable part of every student’s journey. It is undeniable since most of the K-drama school series are in high schools like Boys Over Flowers, The Heirs, Reply 1997, Dream High, and Twenty-Five Twenty-One. But, it can also be reflected in these K-dramas how challenging, pressuring, and competitive high school is.
Remember the scenes in Reply 1988 when Deok-sun did her best to do well in their exam? Her mom even changed her name, hoping that she’ll do well in exams to get into a good university. Come to think of it, she is just a high school student only, and the pressure is really heavy.
This is because the competition for admission to the best schools, particularly university and, to a lesser extent, high school, is severe. Korean students constantly study to raise their marks and admission to the best schools.
The school day typically lasts from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with most pupils continuing their studies after school at a Hagwon (학원), which we will further discuss later. Students frequently sit through lessons with minimal action or hands-on learning during the day at their actual school. Of course, this is dependent on the school.
Individuals who have graduated from middle schools or passed a qualification exam and an evaluation that provides comparable credits are eligible for admission to high schools. General high schools, Special-Purpose high schools, vocational high schools, and Autonomous high schools are the four types. Student selection procedures change depending on the school type and/or location (e.g., metropolitan or provincial areas). Since high school is not considered compulsory education in Korea, students must pay entry fees and tuition.
Here is a list of some high schools in South Korea:
- Apgujeong High School
- Bomoon High School
- Bugil Girls’ High School
- Bugil High School
- Bundang High School
- Busan Foreign Language High School
- Busan International High School
- Chungdam High School
- Daeil High School
- Hana Academy Seoul
- Korean Arts High School
- Seoul National University High School
- Seoul Science High School
- Yongsan High School
Remember when Sung Bo-ra, in Reply 1988, was admired because she studied at Seoul University? They are not overreacting. Studying in a good university is a high achievement for South Koreans.
According to Article 28 of the Higher Education Act of South Korea, universities and colleges exist to develop students’ personalities and teach and explore significant science and art notions vital for the nation’s and human society’s development.
Going to a university requires a solid commitment to studying, patience, and money. Of course, there are scholarships that you can apply for if you are family is not well-off, like Sun-woo in Reply 1988. Some didn’t even have the opportunity to get into prestigious universities because of their exam scores.
The years required for university graduation are two to four years for junior colleges and four years for universities; however, medicine, traditional Asian medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, and pharmacology require two years of preparation courses and thus six years in total.
Some of the top universities in South Korea are the following:
- Sejong University
- Sogang University
- Seoul National University
- University of Seoul
- Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
- Ewha Women’s University
- Kyung Hee University
- Hanyang University
- Pohang University of Science And Technology (POSTECH)
- Yonsei University
- Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)
- Korea University
- Seoul National University
- KAIST – Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology
So, what happens when you finish college? Graduates of Korea’s top three colleges rule the country, with most high-ranking government positions and management positions in Korea’s powerful business conglomerates held by graduates of the country’s top three institutions (chaebols).
Here is a list of celebrities with bachelor’s degrees:
- Kim Tae Hee – Seoul National University; Fashion Design
- Lee Seung Gi – Dongguk University; International Trade and Commerce, Dongguk Graduate School; Finance and Cultural Contents, and Child Psychiatry Counselling Certificate
- Nam Goong Min – Chung-Ang University; Mechanical Engineering
- Minzy – Baekseok University; Theology
- Kim Ji Seok – Hankuk University of Foreign Studies; Major in German and Kyung Hee University’s Graduate School of Journalism and Communication; Cultural Contents Planning
- Jung Eun Chae – Central Saint Martins; Textile Design
- Lee Bo Young – Seoul Women’s University; Korean Literature
Given the competitive and challenging nature of the Korean education system, entering and finishing graduate school is a big deal.
Here are some K-pop idols that have master’s degrees:
- BIGBANG’S Taeyang – Master’s Degree in Producing Performances and Images from Daejin University
- 2 p.m.’s Taecyeon – Korea University Graduate School of International Studies
- G-Dragon – Master’s Degree in Content and Retail Distribution from Sejong University
Prof. Yang Jong-Hoon, Kang Se Chan, Jung In Jae, and Professor Yoon Deok Man. Are these names familiar to you? Yes, they are some of the teachers in K-dramas that are notable for their roles. They pretty much symbolize the teachers in South Korea.
In South Korea, teachers are held in great regard. Students and society treat them with more respect than their American counterparts, and they are addressed with the honorific word.
Licensure under legal standards is required of graduates of teacher training institutes to achieve excellence in the educational system and to ensure a sense of professionalism and commitment to teaching.
Teachers are divided into two categories: primary and secondary school teachers, as well as assistant instructors, professional counselors, librarians, training teachers, and nursing teachers. According to the presidential decree, they must meet particular standards for each category and be licensed by the Minister of Education.
Korean students are called 학생 (haksaeng) in a general sense. Korean students are expected to study really hard to get good grades and be accepted to the best universities. They are put under a lot of pressure to do their best in school, resulting in depression, drinking problems, and suicide.
What is your favorite school subject? South Korea has major 전공 (jeongong) and minor 부전공 (bujeongong) subjects that are taught at different levels. High school students learn nine (9) common subjects: Korean language, social studies (including Korean history), science, mathematics, physical education, practical arts, fine arts, and moral education. If you want to learn more, check out the blog about subjects in Korean.
Of course, one of the most important school-related terms in Korean that you should learn is classmates 반 친구들 (ban chingudeul). If you’re referring to one classmate, you can use 반 친구 (ban chingu). Since studying is tiring, know your classmates at least and try to gain a friend. They will be with you in every journey in school, be it failures or success.
The classroom is where learning takes place. As seen in K-dramas, high school students have their desks and chairs arranged adequately in rows. There is also either a blackboard or a whiteboard. In college, classrooms are more significant, and the population of students in every room is also larger.
Most of you will probably agree with me that Korean school uniforms are incredibly lit. OG K-drama fans surely dreamed of wearing a Korean uniform. In South Korea, most elementary schools do not require uniforms except in a few private elementary schools; nonetheless, uniforms are required beginning in middle school and continuing through high school. A standard South Korean uniform consists of a shirt, blazer, and tie, with girls wearing skirts and boys wearing pants. Some of the adorable K-drama school uniforms are:
- The Heirs
- Boys Over Flowers
- Dream High
- Flower Boy Ramen Shop
- High School Love On
- To The Beautiful You
- School 2013
School clubs 동아리 (dongari) are one of the most exciting parts of the school. This is where you can do what you love to do, meet new friends, and of course, it determines your hierarchy in school. Clubs are offered to give the opportunity to explore your passions, interact with others who share your interests, and have
We usually see that most of the “cool” male students are in the sports club while girls are either in the performing arts, broadcasting, or literature. But, K-dramas like Twenty-Five-Twenty-One and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo that females can also excel in sports clubs.
Did you know that according to World Education News, Korean society is described as having an “almost cult-like dedication to learning,” with children being “test-alcoholics” and parents being “tutor-aholics?”
This is not surprising since Korean students are put under a lot of pressure by their parents and society to have good grades in exams and be accepted into universities. This typically comes at the cost of excessive studying, high pressure, and a system that primarily uses tests to assess students’ talents. You can see this in their K-dramas. So, to achieve this goal, Korean students study like crazy.
After a long study day, most students will continue studying in a Hagwon (학원), which means “private school” in English. Take note that Hagwons are not a real school. They are usually small businesses that operate out of offices and teach students after school.
On the other hand, some students who can’t afford it choose to stay in study rooms like Reply 1988 or just study in their own home.
When watching the K-drama school series, you’re already familiar with how their exam goes. Korean educational system measures students’ abilities using only exams. Of course, this varies by school, but most schools prioritize tests. Any instruction that isn’t directly relevant to answering exam questions is frequently viewed as a waste of time by both students and teachers.
A typical semester at school for any given class might have one or two evaluations outside of the final and midterm exams called 수행평가 suhaengpyeongga, which usually translates to “performance assessment.” The performance assessment typically accounts for about 30% of a final grade, with the rest coming from the midterm (중간고사 junggangosa) and final (기말고사 gimalgo ) exams.
Students’ grades in a class or on an exam do not decide whether they pass or fail. It is quite rare for a Korean student to repeat a grade. Students are instead ranked against their classmates in the same class and grade. Remember that Deok-sun’s friends used to call her Ms. 999th because it’s her rank in school? If you ask a student about their exam score, they are more likely to give you the rank in which they placed rather than an actual score or percentage.
When students finish their three years of high school, they take the Korean version of the SAT. This test is very important. It is commonly known as 수능 (suneung), which is short for 대학수학능력시험 (daehaksuhakneungryeoksiheom). Korean students take this sometime in mid-November each year.
Students are taking it seriously because most of the criteria for admission to the university depend on a student’s performance on this test. The pressure is extra high because there is only one test every year. So if a student did poorly, they have to wait another year to re-do (재수 jaesu ) their SAT. A student who retakes the test is known as a 재수생 (jaesusaeng).
We will end this major list with the word graduation ceremony 졸업식 (Joeopsik). Graduating from a prestige university signifies distinction, high socioeconomic standing, excellent marriage chances, and a prestigious and respected white-collar work route. Graduation is the culmination of your student life. It is a fruit of all the hard work of a student. But, nobody will ever be more proud than Korean parents.
Here’s an interesting fact, parents usually give cosmetic surgeries such as double eyelid surgery and nose job as a graduation gift in South Korea. Many organizations ask job applicants to provide an ID photo, and many employers consider physical beauty when making hiring decisions.
Korean Vocabulary Words Related To School Things
Other School-Related Words In The Korean Language
If you enjoyed learning the common words for school above, here are more Korean words related to the school:
Korean Sentences Related To School
School And Studying
Related To Teachers
Don’t Have Time For Korean Language School?
The influence of Hallyu, or the Korean wave, is getting bigger. So, it’s not surprising that many people want to learn Korean. But, we all know that learning a language is not that easy. Luckily, you don’t have to go to any Korean school to learn Korean.
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