After School Academies in South Korea

I teach middle school students at an academy.

Academies are locally called hagwons which are privately run. I don’t think there is an equivalent that I know of. It’s like a tutoring centre except the students come 2-3 times a week after school and spend a few hours at the academy each time. The academy I am at runs English and Maths classes. Classes are run for elementary school students through to high school students. The first class for elementary starts at around 4pm. My last middle school class finishes just before 10pm. Finishing at 10pm is mandated by law now as previously classes ran a lot later.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Education has a huge importance in South Korea where the university entrance exam is a BIG deal. I’ve mentioned it before in another post, by big deal I mean, flights are suspended or re-routed during exam times and police officers can give students rides so they are not late.

Part of the reason behind this is that where you went to school and university still has a big influence on your career opportunities.

As such, attending an academy is more the norm here with parents wanting their children to have the best chance of landing the most coveted university spots in Seoul (Seoul National University being #1). Many of the students I teach attend English, Maths, Science and Korean academies (there’s also sports and music too) and have a jam packed weekly schedule. Some also on both weekend days.

It is no surprise then that the South Korean education system is regarded as one of the best in the world with the country having high rates in literacy, maths and sciences. In 2020, approximately 51% of the population in South Korea held a Bachelor’s degree. Compare this to Australia in 2020, where approximately 30% of the population held a Bachelor’s degree.

Interestingly, compulsory subjects in high school include Maths, English and Science. If you’re just not inclined at these subjects, that is just too bad so sad. There is no way out of it. When I was at school, I at least had the choice on what level of Maths and English I wanted to take. Here, there is just 1 level of each subject.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

When I first got the job, I did think “Wow, that’s really late. It’s almost my bed time”. But I actually didn’t know how late it was until I started teaching. It sounds late for the teachers but we also start our work day in the afternoon. The poor students have started their day since morning and will go home and do homework after and then go to sleep. When I talk to my students, I feel bad that I’m sleeping earlier that they are.

You can feel their tiredness in classes sometimes. Mood changes because they’ve just been told of all the upcoming practice exams at the academy to prep them for their school exam. You do get the occasional student who falls asleep but bless their socks, they’ve had a long day.

You might be thinking then that during their vacations they might be able to have a break. That is where you are wrong. Academies run holiday programs (like ours) where we start earlier so we can finish earlier and they get ANOTHER class with a native English speaking teacher. Other academies do the 7 hour vacation days but ours just shifted times to be earlier.

Whether they should be spending hours and hours in classrooms after school is debatable. You can blame the parents, the system, the country, culture but at the end of the day, you cannot deny that is has contributed to the high education rate in the country and the turn around in the country’s economy.


6 thoughts on “After School Academies in South Korea

  1. It’s tough: I also have heard it’s similar in Japan, with a huge emphasis on studying (and more studying). While I can see how schooling for practically 24/7 is contributing to a very-productive country, it’s also sacrificing the kids’ childhoods– they have to grow up quickly, and that’s unfair. But until policies are changed (and an entire culture shifts), it looks like that’s the why it’s going to be…

  2. I didn’t know that the situation in Korea was like this and it seems similar to what I know of Japan. I can imagine how stressed out these poor kids must be at the end of the day!! Can you really choose to opt out of maths or English in Australia? That seems amazing! 😁

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