My son is going to be in second grade next week. I was a bit worried when he started first grade in Korean public school, because I saw my in-laws get stressed when their kids entered school. They all quit their jobs so they could take care of their first graders. In one Korean article that I read, it said that first grade moms are the busiest people in Korea.
The basics first
1. Elementary and middle school education is mandatory in Korea. The government will inform the parent when the child is eligible to go to school. Pre-school is optional or not necessary.
2. There are two kinds of schools in Korea: 사립 (sa-rip) or private/non-governmental and 국립 (kung-nip) or public/governmental. Private school is a lot more expensive and difficult to get into than the free public school.
3. There are no uniforms for public elementary school.
4. The school year is divided into two semesters. The first semester starts in March. Summer vacation is four weeks from the middle of July to the middle of August. The second semester begins after the summer vacation. Winter vacation is four weeks from the last week of December until the last week of January. The kids go back to school for three weeks before their two-week spring break.
5. School days is from Mondays to Fridays, but some students attend special classes on Saturdays.
Classes and attendance
6. There are only four subjects in first grade: Korean (국어), Math (수학), Interdisciplinary (통합교과), Creative Activities (체험활동) at 40 minutes per class with ten minute breaks in between.
7. Classes start at 9 o’clock in the morning, but the kids have to be at school at 8:40. Classes end at 12:40 PM three times a week and at 1:30 two times a week.
8. During the first week of school, the classes are short and ends before lunch.
9. Lunch is free for all elementary schools in Seoul. The kids are also given milk mid-morning. They are not allowed to bring their own lunch and everyone eats at the school cafeteria.
10. If both parents are working, kids can come to school from 6 o’clock in the morning and stay until 10 o’clock in the evening. The kids stay in 돌봄교실 (dol-bom kyo-shil). This is a paid service.
11. If a student cannot attend school for any reason, the teacher should be informed.
12. There are after-school classes (called 방과후) that the students can attend. The classes offered differ from one school to another. At my son’s school, they have special classes that are not offered at other schools like golf and drama aside from the staple like music, computer, science, English, soccer, arts, and so many more. They are not as expensive as the classes in “hagwon” or private academies. For example, the computer class is only 90,000 won for three months whereas it’s 100,000 won per month in hagwon.
13. The students go on a field trip once in spring and another in the fall.
14. Aside from field trips, the students also experience other activities like ice skating, watching musicals or sports game.
15. The students also participate in a festival to showcase their talents in drawing, Hanja, singing, dancing, etc.
16. A student is called 학생 or “hak-saeng” while the parent is called 학부모 “hak-bu-mo”.
17. Parents participate in volunteer school work like cleaning the classroom, helping at the library, working at the cafeteria or as a traffic guide around the school zone. Other schools allow some moms to do volunteer after-school teaching.
18. Parents are counselled by the homeroom teacher once every semester about how their kids are doing.
19. An open class is also held once every semester so parents get a glimpse of what the kids do at school.
20. It is important that parents participate in volunteer work and go out with other 학부모 so as not to alienate their child. In my experience, Korean moms are very involved in the education of their children. In my son’s first grade class, there were only two moms working full-time and three who are part-time workers (including moi). The rest are stay-at-home moms.
21. Most of the time, a new student or a graduating student receives the most money during the lunar new year. That’s what we spent for my son’s school supplies.
22. The student needs two bags: a book bag and a shoe bag.
23. The school advises to buy locally made or “Made in Korea” school supplies whenever possible.
24. We didn’t buy any school supply until after the first day. The school provided some supplies and my son also received gifts from neighbors and friends. The owner of the restaurant we frequent (Solemio) gave him a set of notebooks 😀
25. Books are provided by the school for free. They are usually left in the classroom and given back to the student after the semester.
26. Depending on the school, the students may or may not have exams. At my son’s class, they started having weekly quizzes from the second semester.
27. Dictation tests are given from the second month of the school year until the end.
28. The students get stickers that they collect and depending on how many, they get a certificate at the end of the semester.
29. At the beginning of the school year, the students are also given a list of suggested books to read. They are taught how to do book reports as early as the first grade.
30. First grade is not competitive, but the parents are.
31. Every classroom at my son’s school has a big TV, multiple boards, individual student lockers, bookshelves and coat hangers.
32. The teacher has her own desktop computer and telephone line and from time to time, I received messages from the teacher whenever there is an important announcement.
33. At my son’s school, the gymnasium is located on the third floor. There is a soccer field, playground, archery ground, golf driving range, mini arboretum and sandy space.
34. There are special classrooms for special students.
35. Of course, there is an English classroom, an auditorium, a library, science labs and computer labs.
Lastly, the students are not given a graded report card at the end of the school year. Instead, parents receive a detailed report of how well the kids did at school ~ no grades.