Alternative Education in South Korea; Stigmatized Schooling or Cultural Resistance

Your Name and Title:

Kara Mac Donald, Assistant Professor

School, or Organization Name:

Defense Language Institute, Monterey, CA USA

Co-Presenter Name(s):

Kyung Ae Oh, Invited Professor

Duksung Women’s University, Seoul, Korea

Area of the World from Which You Will Present:

Monterey, CA USA & Seoul, South Korea

Language in Which You Will Present:


Target Audience(s):

Educators interested in the context of homeschooling and alternative schools in other countries

Conference Strand:

Alterative Education – “Alternative

Short Session Description (one line):

Homeschooling and Alternative Education in South Korea

Full Session Description (as long as you would like):

In the United States, alternative schools and homeschooling have increasingly served a growing population of students who were not experiencing success in the traditional schools due to special needs, gifted talent or for parents who possessed a concern about the school environment regarding safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure, the lack religious or moral instruction or a dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available. The growth in alternative schools and homeschooling has fostered an environment in which schools and families form partnerships or cooperatives to provide access to a broad range of subjects such as foreign language, advanced sciences and specialized subjects and to help children compete in academics and athletics with other non-alternatively schooled children. As alternative schools and homeschooling move to the mainstream, the stigma of opting out of traditional schooling has faded. Alternative schooled and homeschooled children are not singled out and are competitive in gaining admission to top colleges and pursue successful professional careers.

However, in South Korea the stigma remains strong. First of all, homeschooling for children is still considered violation of education requirement: South Korea requires all children go through 6 years of elementary schooling and 3 years of middle schooling. Although the fine is less than severe and the government overlooks the violation, the stigma still stays since Korea has much of homogeneous culture. Second alternative schools and home schooling go against the social norms and requirements and are viewed as being crucial for success in fiercely competitive society.  Without school ties one often has to stand alone dealing with difficulties in the society. Yet alternative schools and home schooling have emerged and primarily serve students who could not succeed in the conventional, strict and highly structured Korean education system. These students are most often immigrants from Southeast Asia, North Korea or South Korean students with disciplinary issues and benefit from an adaptive curriculum and environment focused on minimizing bullying, social isolation, or academic failure. Due to South Korea’s mono-ethnic and collective society throughout history, social and personal acceptance by the larger community is essential. The drop-out rate for immigrant students is considerably higher than that of South Korean students because the major challenge for them is to adapt Korean society and the highly competitive education system, as well as be accepted by the society itself. Even if an individual feels akin to the Korean society, he/she may struggle as the larger community does not recognize him/her as part of the ‘in-group’. On the other hand, like in the United States, some parents choose an alternative education because Korean education is highly based on testing and rote memorization and believe this form of education cannot nurture an individual effectively to become an independent, critical thinker. For this same reason, some South Korean and foreigners choose to homeschool their children to avoid the regimented, lock-step structure of the Korean education system. Homeshooling is often selected by South Korean parents as a form of resistance or an attempt to escape the hardships their children will face in the intensely competitive education system. For foreigners, often from developed nations working in the country, they choose homeschooling based on philosophy and the unwillingness to submit their children to a fiercely academic competitive system that fails to foster critical thinking one in which their children will face personal and social isolation due to the mono-ethnic values of the Korean society.

Nevertheless, a major struggle for alternative schools and homeschooling in South Korea is recognition. Although the South Korean public's recognition to alternative education may be changing slightly in some social circles, such education still is not widely accepted. Most of all, homeschooling and alternative schools are not considered as legitimated schools, so all children receiving alternative education have to take Korea GED tests to have a minimum requirement to apply for higher education. Also, traditional education is required to enter university due to the country’s  rigid educational standards and reliance on standardized test results and academic records. Consequently, the South Korean government does not actively support alternative schools or homeschooling financially as they do not foster a national view of education. As a result, there is an additional stigma associated with alternative education as it is not seen to prepare an individual to compete effectively in the country’s highly competitive academic and professional sectors.

This presentation describes two significantly different phenomena in South Korea, alternative schools and homeschooling. Alternative schools serve as an opportunity, or way out, of a suffocating educational system in which non-mainstream or immigrant students can be academically successful while minimizing social and personal isolation, yet the education comes with a stigma. Homeschooling is a choice driven by the middle- and upper-class Korean and foreign parents’, particularly mothers’, desire to foster their children's individualities and to promote academic independence and creativity. Although this choice is branded by a particular image, it one that serves as a form of cultural resistance, which thrives on neoliberal discourse of education and strengthens family-centered values while providing a competitive edge to children to be successful members of the society. The presentation will close by fostering a dialogue with attendees to explore the forces shaping the current state of alternative schools and homeschooling in their countries.



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