What should we make of the South Korean tutoring boom?

Is the South Korean private tutoring explosion model something that other countries should try to imitate?

South Korea leads the world in the amount of money spent on tutoring services. (Source: TutorGrams.com)

To say that South Korea takes its private tutoring seriously would be an understatement. In fact, spending on private tutoring in South Korea has surpassed spending on public education in Finland, a country with one of the best education systems in the world. So what, exactly, is driving this crazy growth?

To put it simply: competition. Many South Koreans believe that the only way they can outperform their peers is with the help of a tutor. In fact, nearly 90 percent of elementary students in South Korea receive some form of tutoring.

This tutoring does not come cheap, either; the average South Korean family spends about 20 percent of its income on private tutoring. Although the price is steep, many parents consider tutoring to be just another monthly expense they have to take into account. If everyone is using a tutor, can you afford not to?

Because of the huge demand for tutors, the industry feels a little like a national sports league, complete with its own teams, called hagwons. These hagwons are tutoring companies that routinely compete with each other to hire the best teaching talent. Indeed, top South Korean tutors are treated like famous athletes and paid accordingly. Some tutors can earn as much as $4 million a year and it’s not uncommon to see the faces of famous tutors plastered on billboards or on the side of buses!

However, does it actually work?

(Next page: Examining the South Korean tutoring system)

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