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High school education to be free beginning 2021

Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae (Yonhap)
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae (Yonhap)
High school education will be free for all students in South Korea starting next year with expanded budget support. This would make education free for all primary, middle and high school students.

The Ministry of Education said Tuesday that it was seeking a budget of 76.3 trillion won ($64.48 billion) for 2021, up 0.8 percent, or 601.5 billion won, from the 75.7 trillion won allotted this year.

The proposed budget, set for a parliamentary review later this week, would increase spending on high school, lifelong and vocational education but cut back on kindergarten, elementary and middle school education.

Some 943.1 billion won of the 76.3 trillion won is to be used to make education free for all, including first-year high school students -- currently the only paying cohort in Korea’s public school system.

Elementary and middle school education has been free for all students since 2005. The country took the first step toward free high school education in the fall of 2019 by exempting all third-year students from all education expenses. Second-year students became exempt from tuition the following year, leaving only first-years as paying students.

Next year, the ministry plans to cover tuition, textbooks and other fees for all students attending public high schools.

Free education will not be provided for those attending autonomous private high schools, foreign language high schools or arts high schools, except for students from low-income families.

To respond to challenges from the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the ministry plans to spend more on fostering online learning and making classrooms smarter.

Close to 49 billion won will be set aside for the ministry to develop e-books and digital textbooks -- 3.8 times the amount stated in the third supplementary budget this year.

The ministry is also allocating 18 billion won to establish a support center for colleges to create their own online learning environments, and it is using another 8 billion won to start a system whereby select schools, teachers and students can test early-stage educational technologies developed by startups.

Some 86.8 billion won will be used to convert 536 outdated elementary, middle and high school buildings into eco-friendly facilities starting next year.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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