South Korea - Education

Education is a top priority; focus is on quality of education, inclusiveness, and vocational training

South Korea spent US$283 million or 11% of its total official development assistance (ODA) on education in 2019, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC). This is a 20% increase over 2018, making it the ninth-largest DAC donor to education in absolute terms and tenth largest in relative terms of ODA as a share of gross national income (GNI). South Korea considers education a key sector through which it can support partner countries in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In 2019, South Korea channeled US$250 million or 88% of its ODA to education bilaterally, above the DAC average of 70%. This includes US$32 million or 11% of education ODA channeled as earmarked funding to multilateral organizations. According to the ‘2019 Annual Implementation Plan’, education was the fourth-largest sector receiving KRW255.5 billion (US$219 million) in 2019. This increased to KRW284.7 billion (US$244 million) in 2021 making education the third-largest sector. Education ODA as a share of total bilateral ODA remained stable at 10% in this period.

Bilateral ODA to education primarily targeted post-secondary education (39% of bilateral education ODA or US$97 million), basic education (18% of bilateral education ODA or US$46 million), and vocational training (16% of bilateral education ODA or US$40 million). Multilateral ODA to education accounted for US$33 million or 12% of its ODA to education; far below the DAC average of 30%. The main recipients of South Korea’s ODA to education are the International Development Association (IDA; 9% or US$25 million), International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD; 1.3% or US$4 million), and African Development Fund (AFD; 0.5% or US$1 million). South Korea joined the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in 2014, and is expected to pledge KRW2.9 billion (US$2.5 million) for the 2021-2023 replenishment period. In the previous replenishment for 2018-2020, South Korea pledged a total of US$4 million, of which US$2 million was allocated as core funding. A new pledges was confirmed at the Global Education Summit on July 28, 2021. South Korea committed US$15 million for GPE activities from 2021-2025. This pledge is three times larger than the previous commitment given the worsening education situation around the world.

Education is one of the priorities of South Korea’s2022 Annual Implementation Plan’. Korea International Cooperation Agency’s (KOICA’s) ‘Education Mid-term Strategy 2021-2025’ envisions “inclusive development through quality education”, and its mission is “to ensure rights to education for all by improving the education system and enhancing educational participation in partner countries”. The current strategy outlines three strategic objectives which are linked to the targets of SDG 4 that seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all:

  1. Quality education and learning achievement;
  2. Digital education to develop future capabilities; and
  3. Vocational and higher education to foster talents.

South Korea hosted the 2015 World Education Forum in Incheon, South Korea, where stakeholders identified key elements of the ‘Education 2030: Framework for Action’, which laid out a vision for global education policy for the coming 15 years and the financing required to achieve the Education 2030 agenda.

Education features prominently in South Korea’s four flagship government programs with an education focus, launched in 2016. Three of the four initiatives had a focus on education: ‘Better Life for Girls’; ‘Science, Technology and Innovation for Better Life’; and ‘Better Education for Africa’s Rise’. Although the initiatives themselves were discontinued during the presidential impeachment in 2017, the education budget has been protected and much of the committed funding has been allocated to other government programs with an education focus. Gender equality, linked to girls’ education, remains a cross-cutting issue of South Korea’s development policy. ODA for education, as one of South Korea’s priority sectors, is expected to increase moderately in the future in line with the overall expectations for a growing ODA budget.

MOFA’s Development Cooperation Bureau guides international education policy

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) drives the formulation of South Korea’s global education policy. Within MOFA, the Development Policy Bureau is responsible for developing policies (specifically the Development Policy Divisions within the Bureau). MOFA’s Multilateral Development Cooperation Division manages relations with multilateral education initiatives such as GPE. Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA; overseen by MOFA) is responsible for the implementation of bilateral grants and other technical cooperation. The Korean Export-Import Bank (Korea Eximbank) implements projects for the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MOEF), mainly in the form of ODA loans.