Education in South Korea is viewed as being crucial for success and competition is consequently very heated and fierce. A centralized administration oversees the process for the education of children from kindergarten to the third and final year of high school. Mathematics, science, Korean, social studies, and English are generally considered to be the most important subjects. Sometimes physical education is not considered important as it is not regarded to be education and therefore many schools lack high-quality gymnasiums and varsity athletics. South Korea was the first country in the world to provide high-speed internet access to every primary, junior, and high school.

The School Year Schedule and Breaks; Classes on Saturdays

The school year is divided into two semesters. The first begins in the beginning of March and ends in mid-July; the second begins in late August and ends in mid-February. They have summer vacation from mid-July to late August, and winter vacation from late-December to early February. They also have a week off in the fall. After winter break, students return to school for a week to take end-of-year exams, and then take a short vacation from mid-February to early March. The schedules are generally standardized, however it can vary slightly from region to region. In June 2011, mirroring the nation’s adoption of a five-day work week, the government announced that, beginning in 2012, primary and secondary schools would no longer hold Saturday classes.

The Korean SAT

College Scholastic Ability Test also known as Suneung (수능) is a type of standardized test accepted by all South Korean universities. Suneung is managed by the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation. The test is offered on the second Thursday of November of every year.

On the test day, government employees arrive to work later than the ordinary time to avoid traffic jams that could prevent students from getting to testing sites. The CSAT is one of the most rigorous standardized tests in existence, and students start preparing for it as early as elementary school. Since South Korea has one of the highest number of post-secondary degree holders in the world, the extreme pressure felt by students culminate to teenage depression and high rates of suicide.

Often, students are escorted by police, especially if students don’t think they will arrive at the test centre on time. Since the test is almost a life-or-death exam for students, the preparation for it is so secure and strict that since its beginning from 1993, Suneung questions were never leaked. Questions are made by chosen professors and teachers, who are locked in a hotel with blacked windows, no communication and a full library of questions until the end of Suneung.