Korea has experienced a rapid expansion in educational participation over the last 60 years, with currently 80% of graduates of high schools moving on to higher education (Research Institute for Teacher Policy and Ministry of Education, 2016). To deal with a rapid expansion in the number of school students, South Korea had to train large numbers of teachers rapidly, which in turn fostered a major expansion of the number of secondary teachers graduating (Bermeo, 2014).
However, as participation in secondary education has become almost universal and low birth rates are causing the number of secondary school students to decline, there is less need for a high number of graduates. Indeed, the system now produces many more graduates than are needed in schools, competition among graduates for the available teaching positions is therefore strong, at least in areas that are considered desirable places to live and work – although this is not universal and many more remote areas have difficulties attracting graduate teachers. This situation is very different in the case of primary school teachers, for admission to the only 13 institutions providing ITE is highly competitive and candidates enjoy high job placement rates (National Centre on Education and the Economy, 2017).
Of course, this is not a desirable situation for the graduates who are unable to pursue their chosen career, or the government that is funding their initial teacher education (ITE). The Korean government has responded to this situation by:
The employment exam consists of two phases. The first is a written exam, focussing on pedagogical theory and, for secondary teachers, the content of their subject specialisation. The second phase is more practical and consists of interviews and demonstrations of lesson planning and teaching.
Table 1. Test specification for Secondary School Teachers
The exam is developed by the Korean Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE). It develops both the written exam and the questions for the interviews and scenarios. KICE also develops rubrics for assessing these. Developing the exam is a major exercise, with KICE staff assisted by over 100 item developers, mainly university professors and experienced teachers. Although the exam is designed to assess against the national curriculum for initial teacher education, in practice some stakeholders reported that there can be a disconnection between the content of ITE courses and what is required to pass the exam.
The exams developed by KICE are not mandatory for all provinces, but the vast majority use it, as it is expensive and difficult for provinces to develop their own tests with the same level of rigour. Given the number of candidates, the exam is highly competitive (Jo, 2008). Only around 12% of candidates were successful in 2015, although this rate is now considerably higher – in 2005 only 5.5% passed the examination (Research Institute for Teacher Policy and Ministry of Education, 2016).
This comprehensive programme is now in its fourth iteration, and the criteria for the fifth iteration are being developed. The evaluation process is designed to serve three related purposes:
Criteria for evaluation are developed by the Korean Educational Development Institute (KEDI) in consultation with stakeholders. The fourth set of evaluation criteria introduced qualitative criteria in addition to the previous quantitative criteria. The reviews themselves are conducted by panels of five teacher educators, who read the provider’s self-assessment, and then conduct a site visit to validate that assessment. Consultation during the site visit is largely with university staff, including those who are responsible for evaluating and improving the programme. Students’ perspectives are obtained through a survey (Gu, 2009; Research Institute for Teacher Policy and Ministry of Education, 2016).
The grade allocated to an ITE provider is determined by points scored on the above criteria. A score above 800 points out of 1000 translates to an A grade, while a score below 500 results in an E grade. These grades have real consequences:
In the previous round of evaluations, institutions receiving an A grade received additional funding, but this is no longer the case. The evaluation process has been effective in reducing the number of ITE places for secondary teaching by 7% in 4 years (Table 2).
Table 2. Admission quota for entrance into initial teacher education programmes, by year and ITE entry route
The OECD review team in its review of Korea on 4‑8 December 2017 saw the ITE evaluation approach as a strength of the system because:
The OECD review team also noted that:
The assessment of teaching performance could be more authentic. Although the assessments of teaching performance in the second stage improves the reliability of the exam, when the process is so selective, there is a need to target the qualities required for effective teaching as directly as possible. If these performance assessments were carried out in real classroom during ITE, it would both increase the reliability of the exam and would strengthen the link between ITE and recruitment into schools.
Bermeo, E. (2014), “South Korea’s successful education system: lessons and policy implications for Peru”,Korean Social Science Journal, Vol. 41/2, pp. 135-151, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s40483-014-0019-0. 
Gu, J. (2009), The Study for Strengthening the Third Phase Evaluation of Teacher Training Institute, Korean Educational Development Institute, http://file:///C:/Users/Paniagua_A/Downloads/RR2009-31_ABSTRACT.pdf. 
Jo, S. (2008), “English education and teacher education in South Korea”, Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 34/4, pp. 371-381, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02607470802401594. 
Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation (2015), National Level Tests, KICE, http://www.kice.re.kr/sub/info.do?m=0206&s=english. 
National Centre on Education and the Economy (2017), South Korea: Teacher and Principal Quality, http://ncee.org/what-we-do/center-on-international-education-benchmarking/top-performing-countries/south-korea-overview/south-korea-teacher-and-principal-quality/. 
Research Institute for Teacher Policy and Ministry of Education (2016), OECD TALIS Initial Teacher Preparation Study. Country Background Report Korea, Ministry of Education. 
This case study describes a “promising practice” drawn from an OECD review of initial teacher preparation in the United States from 25-28 October 2016.
The OECD Review Team identified a number of “promising practices” in each country. These practices may not be widespread or representative, but seen in the context of other challenges, they represent a strength or opportunity to improve the country’s initial teacher preparation system – and for other countries to learn from them.
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