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Public vs. Private Schools In South Korea


Many private, and public schools in South Korea have foreign English teachers. This number has been dwindling in recent years, but you can still find teaching positions if that’s what you desire. Private schools in Korea are known as hagwons, (학원), and are also known as academies/cram schools. These private institutions aren’t just for English, but pretty much anything you can think of. There are the more obvious ones for school subjects, (language, math, science, etc) but there are also academies for swimming, taekwondo, cooking, dance…pretty much if it can be learned, there’s most likely a hagwon for it.

Foreign English teachers usually work different hours at hagwons, as most serve students during after school hours, (although there are some who have kindergarten, or lower grade levels during traditional school hours). Teachers at these types of schools can be part time, or full time, and can work anywhere from 1PM-10PM. Hagwons are for-profit learning centers, so the satisfaction of parents and children is highly valued, and catered to more so than in public schools. Of course the satisfaction of parents and children is valued in public schools as well, however there is more of an edge to it when parents are directly funding private institutions themselves. There’s more of an ownership to it.

The way the public school system is run in Korea, isn’t that much different than in America. Students are in school anywhere from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, with before and after school activities available. Students take various classes throughout the day, there are clubs they can join, and there are student body presidents. In addition to national holidays, teachers have about 14 days of vacation time that is broken up between the two semesters. Teachers who work at private school may have to work on some holidays, or winter/summer break as hagwons may remain open so students can study further.

Foreign teachers who work in public schools are assigned to a school through the EPIK Program, (English Program In Korea). EPIK works with local POE’s, (Provincial Offices of Education) throughout Korea. If you apply through EPIK and get hired by a POE, you don’t work for EPIK, but are an employee of that particular POE. EPIK works as a middle person, connecting teachers with offices of education. When I applied back in 2014, I was able to apply to EPIK through a recruiting agency, but you can also apply directly to EPIK if you like. On the EPIK application, you can put down a preferred area you’d like to live in, as well as a secondary one, but this does not mean that you will be placed there, (especially if you want to teach in Seoul. There is a different documentation process for that, and also extremely competitive.)

Teachers who work for hagwons apply directly to that hagwon themselves, or through a recruiting agency. It may be easier to live in the city of your choice if you apply directly to a hagwon, (unless it is a larger hagwon company with multiple sites). Hagwons, as well as public schools provide housing, which is usually a small studio apartment, (housing is larger in more rural areas). Basic amenities such as a bed, TV, microwave, fridge, desk, chair, microwave, (most teachers get a microwave, I spent my first year in Korea without one!) There is also an option to find a place on your own, and the school will provide a certain amount of money for that.

I wanted to teach in a public school, because that is what I was most familiar with. My entire K-12 education was in public school, and I also was a substitute teacher for many years. There is more job security with public school teaching in Korea, as a hagwon can find loop holes and fire a teacher at any time. Nevertheless, there are great hagwon schools out there, and I know people who really enjoyed their experience. If you’re interested in teaching in South Korea, my advice would be to do your research and see what would be the best fit for you, and if possible, try connecting with those who have taught there.

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