High school education to be free beginning 2021 in South Korea

A teacher checks a first grader's temperature at Dongdo Elementary School on May 27, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Sep 1, 2020, The Korea Herald. High school education will be free for all students in South Korea starting next year with expanded budget support. This would make education free for all students across primary, middle and high schools, The Korea Herald reported.

The Ministry of Education said Tuesday it is proposing 76.3 trillion won ($64.5 million) as a total budget for 2021 to the National Assembly, up 0.8 percent, or 601.5 billion won, from 75.7 trillion won allotted this year.

The proposal is asking for increased spending on high school, lifelong and vocational education support while cutting the amount for kindergarten, elementary and middle school education.

Some 943.1 billion won of the 76.3 trillion won education budget is to be used to make education free for all, including first-year high school students, currently the only paying grade in Korea‘s public tiertiary school system.

Elementary and middle school education has been free for all students since 2005. The country took the first step toward free high school education in the fall semester of 2019 by exempting all third-year students from all education expenses. Second-year students became exempt from tuition the following year, leaving only first-years as paying students.

The government will cover the tuition, textbooks and other fees for all students attending public high schools and low-income group students attending private and other high schools.

The free education measure does not include those attending autonomous private, foreign language and art high schools.

To respond to challenges from the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the ministry plans to spend more on fostering online learning and making classrooms smarter.

Close to 49 billion won will be set aside for the ministry to develop e-books and digital textbooks, which is 3.8 times the amount given in the third supplementary budget this year.

The ministry is also pouring 18 billion won to establish a support center for colleges to create their own online learning environment, and it is using another 8 billion won to start a system where select schools, teachers and students can test early-stage educational technologies developed by start-ups.

Some 86.8 billion won will be used to convert 536 outdated elementary, middle and high school buildings into eco-friendly facilities starting next year.

By Ko Jun-tae

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