TCS Daily

Reaching for the SKY

By Bill Costello - March 14, 2010 12:00 AM

Within South Korea, the three most prestigious universities are SeoulNational University, Korea University, and Yonsei University.Collectively, they are referred to by the acronym SKY.

Graduating from a SKY university often leads to a prestigious job with ahigh salary-especially if the graduate is in the field of education.Opinion polls show that South Koreans view teachers as high-statusprofessionals who make greater contributions to society than any otherprofession. I recently visited the SKY universities to learn why SouthKoreans feel this way.

"In Korea, we have a Confucian tradition of respecting teachers," said LimCheolil, associate professor of education at Seoul National University.

Beyond tradition, South Korea actively raises the status of teaching as aprofession by doing two things. First, it makes entry to teacher trainingvery selective. Teachers are recruited from the top 5 percent of each highschool graduate class. Second, teachers are paid generous startingsalaries of 141 percent of GDP per capita, which is significantly abovethe Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) averageof 95 percent.

Making teacher training selective and paying teachers high startingsalaries attracts the strongest candidates to the teaching profession,which is important because teacher quality significantly impacts studentoutcomes.

South Korea is able to pay teachers high starting salaries because itemploys relatively fewer teachers than other nations. As a result, thestudent-teacher ratio in South Korea is 30:1, compared to the OECD averageof 17:1.

It's a smart tradeoff because studies show that teacher quality hassignificantly more impact on student outcomes than class size. Dollar fordollar, it's better to attract a small number of outstanding teachers withhigh starting salaries than to attract a large number of mediocre teacherswith lower starting salaries-even if that means having a highstudent-teacher ratio.

In education-obsessed South Korea, the potential for earning a lot ofmoney as a teacher is great. For example, 46-year-old math instructor andcram school tutor Woo Hyeong-cheol makes $4 million a year teachingWeb-based classes. His salary is higher than most of the top professionalbaseball players in South Korea. And he's just as famous.

Teaching is more than just a high-status profession with a high startingsalary in South Korea; it's also one of the most stable careers. Lee SangMin, assistant professor of education at Korea University, said: "Afterthe economic crisis in 1997, most Koreans considered stability as the mostimportant thing when choosing a job. Therefore, many university studentspursue teaching positions in elementary, middle, and high school."

Lee Sungho H., professor of education at Yonsei University, agreed: "Themost critical reason for being a teacher is job stability. Teachers areguaranteed retirement at age 62. In addition, teaching provides fringebenefits such as summer and winter vacations, a fixed daily time schedule,and a good pension."

South Korea's high level of respect for teachers is an exemplar for othernations that want to improve student outcomes.

Bill Costello, M.Ed., is a U.S.-based education columnist, blogger, andauthor of Awaken Your Birdbrain: Using Creativity to Get What You Want. Hecan be reached at


would never work in USA
First, you can't have a teacher make more than a professional knuckle-dragger (jock).

Second, you absolutely must have the teacher in a soul-sucking union. Said union would fight against merit pay and raises and against any attempt to actually teach.

Third, the government would mandate that limiting the number of teachers is unfair (to the stupid and lazy). "Everyone who wants to be a teacher should be able to" would be the official liberal line.

Lastly, too many US students feel studying for educational success is "acting white." Filled with overwhelming self-esteem, they'd rebel.

In short, Americans (and the illegals which pass for 'em) are too lazy as students and too stupid as adults to allow the Korean method to succeed here.


Wow! The punctuation was fixed!
And my original posting about it was removed. I'm starting to wonder if TCS Daily is a wholly-run operation of the White House.

An article on education should not be riddled with missing spaces between words. For example, "otherprofession", "aprofession", "trainingvery", "startingsalaries", etc.

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