While there are some special public schools in the Seoul area, it should be noted that expats generally send their children to international schools – of which there are many in the Seoul area. The quality of education in South Korea is among the best in the world. In recent years, Korea has been internationally praised for having some of the highest rates of citizens obtaining a university education worldwide and is thus one of the top ten most educated countries in the world.
Public schools in Seoul offer free education, which is a much better deal than paying up to 20,000,000 won per year to send your child to an international school, but you may not want your child to attend public school in Seoul for several reasons.
First of all, public school in Korea is completely taught in Korean; in fact, even English classes are mostly in Korean. Your child would most definitely be the only foreign child in the school, which would either make your child extremely popular or an extreme outcast. In any case, while it’s a great idea for your child to learn Korean and make Korean friends, the Korean culture itself would isolate your child in many ways. Korean children and teenagers have a very different culture from a child or teenager from a Western country. They listen to different music, wear different clothes, eat different food and have an entirely different idea of what “cool” is. Even if your child were fluent in Korean, he or she would still likely be very uncomfortable in the Korean public school system.
Another reason you may not want your child to attend a public school in Seoul is the possible use of corporal punishment. Korean teachers can and will strike your child if they feel your child has misbehaved, and many Western parents (and most expats in general) disagree with this kind of punishment. Korean corporal punishment in public schools is often very embarrassing for the student as they are often punished and belittled in front of their peers. While Korean students are used to this, your child may be very uncomfortable in this sort of environment (although it should be noted that as younger teachers are coming into public schools, this type of punishment is becoming less and less popular).
Additional problems have been reported from expat parents whose children are enrolled in Korean public schools. Even if your child is fluent in Korean, you as the parent are not fluent, there are huge communication problems. For example, bullying is very common on any school ground, but if your child is bullied in a Korean public school it is usually a race issue, and as a parent you have very little power if you don’t speak/understand the Korean language.
The majority of foreign students in public schools in Korea come from other Asian countries like Japan, China or Southeast Asia. It is extremely rare to see a child of Western descent in a Korean public school. However, it is not completely unheard of and if you really want your child to study in a public school setting it is possible.
The standard of public schools in Seoul are generally the same, but there are some excellent high schools your child may want to consider if they are particularly adept at science or math. Any child who possesses an alien registration card is able to attend a Korean public school. Contact the schools as early as possible as there are examinations and selection requirements.
Seoul Science High School: http://www.sshs.hs.kr/doum/index.jsp
Hansung Science High School: http://www.hansung-sh.hs.kr/doum/index.jsp