Education is regarded very highly in Busan. The language of instruction in public schools in South Korea is exclusively Korean and the country also has a reputation for its strict approach to teaching and for pushing children to excel. For these reasons, most expat parents choose to rather send their children to an international school in Busan.
International schools in Busan have an excellent reputation, but there are heavy school fees that come with this reputation. Expats will also find that, in most cases, school fees don’t cover extra expenses such as uniforms or school excursions. Expats should therefore try to negotiate a schooling stipend as part of their employment contract.
Public schools in Busan
Children usually start kindergarten at the age of three or four and then start primary school at the age of six. Students in South Korea finish school after grade 12 at the age of 18. Primary education lasts for six years followed by three years of middle school and three years of high school.
It’s rare for expat parents in Busan to send their children to a public school. The Korean education system is praised for the results its students consistently produce, but few Westerners would subject their children to the high pressured and singularly focused approach adopted by Korean public schools. Children are taught only in Korean in public schools – another factor that discourages foreign children to attend.
Attending primary and middle school is compulsory, but high school attendance isn’t. For this reason, public schooling up to the end of middle school is free, but parents must pay for high school.
International schools in Busan
Expats moving to Busan with children will find that international school fees are their greatest expense. Though Busan doesn't have such a variety of schools as Seoul, the schools all have high standards of education. Most of these schools cater to English-speaking families and follow American or International Baccalaureate curricula. Some of these schools do offer ESL classes to students who aren’t English speaking. Busan also has schools following Japanese curricula.
Generally, classes are small, giving students a better opportunity to learn. That said, expat parents should be aware that the South Korean culture of pressuring students to achieve academically does spill over into international schools to some extent. Because of this, expat children might feel more pressure to excel academically than they did in their home countries.
Expats sending their children to international schools in Busan should research possible schools long before they move. Parents should contact schools as early as possible as schools could have long waiting lists. Expat children might have to be interviewed before they are accepted into an international school.
Special-needs education in Busan
By law, children in South Korea cannot be refused admission or discriminated against by any school because of disabilities. Education is also free for children with physical and intellectual disabilities from the ages of five to 18 in South Korea. While there are special needs schools throughout the country, and Busan is no exception, many children with disabilities attend mainstream schools. Students who spend a lot of time in hospital can also study online while receiving medical treatment.
For a child to attend a school for special needs, they must first be registered as a child with a disability at their local district office. Parents can then apply at the school of their choice.
Not all international schools cater for children with special educational needs, and expat parents should therefore check with the relevant school.
Tutoring in Busan
Tutors can be useful for expat children transitioning into a new school environment, and can be hired for anything from general assistance with school subjects to helping maintain a child's mother tongue or helping them to learn Korean. Differences in education systems may result in expat children being behind in some areas of their new curriculum, and tutors are an excellent way to catch up.
Tutoring in South Korea is a huge industry, so expats will have plenty of choices. Expats should research different options thoroughly before deciding on a tutor. Tutoring can be done one-on-one, through online classes and videos, or by attending a hagwon (private after school academy). Many schools will have a list of tutors or hagwons they can recommend.
►For an overview of the education system, read Education and Schools in South Korea.
Are you an expat living in Busan?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Busan. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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