English is taught as a required subject from the third year of elementary school up to high school. However, English classes usually focus upon preparing for the entrance exam, as well as various English-language proficiency tests such as TOEIC and TOEFL, which tend to be listening and grammar-based, with little or no emphasis on spoken English. As a result, many Koreans have very limited speaking ability in English despite having studied the language for eight years or more in school as well as in after-school classes. As a result, many schools, including public schools and hagwons, hire foreign teachers for their English education programs to help develop their English conversational skills. As the university entrance examination is such an important factor in education, many parents spend a significant portion of their income to send their children to these institutes in order to prepare them for the exam.
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Education in Korea
In South Korea, education is highly regarded and extremely competitive. A centralized administration oversees the process for the education of children from kindergarten to twelfth grade. English is considered to be one of the most important subjects. Sometimes, physical education is not considered important, as it is not regarded to be education, and, therefore, many schools lack high-quality varsity athletics. South Korea was the first country in the world to provide high-speed internet access from every primary, junior, and high school.
Korean society regards getting into a prestigious university as a prerequisite to success. Most of a student's career is focused in admission to such universities, although this attitude has shifted in recent years. Nearly all of the nation's top schools (both high school and university) are located in Seoul, inviting criticism that rural areas face structural disadvantages. Rural students undergo hours of daily commute if admitted to a Seoul school.
Secondary school systems are single-sex or co-ed, and some are specialized by academic field. While public schools typically specialize in a particular technical skill (engineering, for example), many private schools specialize in the arts. Three of the top national universities form the acronym SKY (Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University). KAIST, located in Daejeon, specializes in technology and science. Ewha Womans University, located in Seoul, is the most competitive university for women in Korea. Admission to these schools is extremely competitive.
Most parents send their children to private academies, hagwons(학원), as early on as kindergarten. These institutes teach a variety of subjects, ranging from the study of Chinese characters to music, art and English. A typical high school student attends 2 or 3 different types of these academies after their full day at their public high school classes.