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Koreans, Biggest Spender on Public Education

Posted September. 16, 2003 23:24,   


Korea spends the highest percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP) on public education among the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries.

According to an OECD report on 2003 edition of Education at a Glance (EAG), released Tuesday, Korean people were found to have spent 18 percent of the education fees for elementary, middle, and high schools, more than double the OECE average of 7 percent.

For colleges, they paid 76 percent of the tuition fees, 3.8 times the OECD average of 20 percent

However, as the report was based on only public education spending, the amount of total education fees households have to shoulder is probably much higher, given that the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development estimated private education amounted to 7 trillion won in 2000.

The percentage of GDP that Korea spent on public education was 7.1 percent, much higher than the U.S. (7.0 percent), U.K (5.3 percent) and Japan (4.6 percent). The OECD average was 5.5 percent.

Education expenses per student were 3,155 dollars for elementary school, 4,069 dollars for middle school, and 6,118 dollars for college, based on purchasing power parity (PPP), about 60-70 percent less than the OECD average.

Purchasing power parity (PPP) is the exchange rate at which the goods in one country cost the same as goods in another country. The Korea`s PPP in 2000 was 731.19 won per one dollar.

Although the ratio of educational spending to GDP is high since the nation`s economic size is smaller than the OECD average, education expenses per student are relatively low.

In Korea, the number of students per class was 36.3 in elementary school and 37.7 in middle school in 2001, higher than the average number among the OECD member countries, 22 and 24, respectively. Moreover, its student-to-teacher ratio was 32.1 to one in elementary school, 21.0 to one in middle school and 19.3 to one in high school, far higher than the OECD average17, 14.5 and 13.8 to one.


Meanwhile, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA 2000), an international study to assess the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students, Korean students` overall performance in mathematical and scientific literacies is at a high level among the OECD but the performance of students in the highest rank was at the lowest level in reading. Korean students` overall academic performance ranks 6th in reading, 2nd in mathematics, and 1st in science, outdoing the OECD average. However, the percentage of Korean students who reached the highest level in reading was only 5.7 percent, ranking 21st, lagging far behind 19 percent of New Zealand and 18 percent of Finland and Australia. Moreover, when comparing the marks of the top 5 percent students of each nation, Korean students ranked 20th in reading, 6th in mathematics, and 5th in science.

Seong-Chul Hong sungchul@donga.com