Swedish Politicians Debate Adopting Korean Education System

South Korea’s education system, long the subject of criticism and anxiety within the country, has emerged as a new model for the future of Sweden’s schools. After an opposition Swedish lawmaker praised South Korea’s education system following his recent visit, the Swedish Minister of Education took the unusual step of rebutting him publicly and criticizing South Korean schools in the press.

South Korean netizens were surprised to hear that the nation’s schools were being looked on with envy in Sweden, and advised the Northern European country not to follow in their footsteps unless they want to create bitter competition for higher grades and a higher youth suicide rate.

Article From Yonhap News:

Is There Anything Sweden Can Learn from South Korea? Controversy in Sweden over South Korean Education System


A political clash has erupted in Sweden after the country’s main opposition leader compared the educational systems of South Korea and Sweden.”

In an article in the Swedish daily Dagen Industri (DI), Jan Björklund, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden and Minister of Education, rebutted the view of Stefan Loefven, the opposition Social Democrats leader, who praised the Korean educational system. Björklund stated that, “South Korea is not a role model for education in Sweden.”

Björklund pointed out in the article, “Loefven suggested the Korean system as a role model for us to follow, but OECD studies have been critical of the Korean education system, which has seen educational growth but disregarded the quality of tertiary education.”

“About one third of university curricula in South Korea would not meet the requirements of a high school in Sweden,” he added, “Sweden rose to second place in a ranking of higher education released, within striking distance of the 1st-place United States. In contrast, South Korea came in 24th.”

Universitas 21, a global network of research universities which released the U-21 rankings, assessed high school education systems in 40 countries on the basis of resources, environment, relevance, and performance.

The article by the Swedish education minister is seen as aimed at countering the the position of opposition lawmaker Loefven, who criticized the Swedish education system after a recent visit to South Korea.

In an Oct. 29th article on the DI entitled, “Why Sweden Should Follow in the Footsteps of South Korea in Education,” Loefven said, “South Korea has witnessed its educational level grow at an annual average rate of 5 percent or more over the past decade, contrasting with slowing investment in education by Sweden.”

He noted, “South Korea sets its goals high for improvements in educational systems and encourages students to continue their studies into tertiary education. Now South Korea has a superior education system, making Seoul have an edge over others in global competition.”

Some observers say that Loefven is inconsistent in his evaluation of the Korean education, as he told accompanying reporters, “We can’t push our students to work 40 hours a week and study 60 hours per week,” criticizing how Korean students are put under pressure and labor unions are not viewed favorably in South Korea.

Östernsund Posten, a Swedish daily retorted, “while Loefven talked a lot about the side effects of Korean education systems, his talk about using Korea as a model for future Swedish education remains unconvincing.”

The paper criticized Loefven, saying, “it is outrageous for an opposition leader to compare two countries in education that are the world apart.

Anther Swedish paper said on Oct. 30, “Loefven didnt mention the dark side of Korean education that he described in a previous article for the Aftonbladet. What exactly Sweden can learn from South Korea’s education system is highly questionable, fierce competition and intense studying pressure?”

High school graduation, South Korea (top) vs. Sweden (bottom)

High school graduation, South Korea (top) vs. Sweden (bottom)

korea-high school graduation-sweden

Comments From Naver:


I can’t agree more on this. Sweden has nothing to learn but cutthroat competition and studying stress from South Korea.


We study not for knowledge but for higher grades.


The purpose of education in South Korea is not to nurture future talent. It’s all about learning by rote and shallow knowledge. Worse still, science and math become the subjects of memorization as the CSAT is too easy. Essay tests for students who want to major in science and engineering have become worse in quality. The private education problems are not due to the content of the CSAT, but to the public mindset.


Do we have any real sense of education? We’re just manufacturing students.


Korean students are not doing well. They are just learning by rote. They are good at memorizing but are said to fall behind others in understanding, probably.


If Sweden follows suit, high school students in Sweden will commit suicide, run away from home. South Korean students stick it out, but for students in Sweden, it is out of the question!


The Education Minister understood the situation. Is education in South Korea education in any real sense? It’s just a way to domesticate students.


In South Korea, there could never be a Steve Jobs.


Students in Sweden will go crazy if South Korea becomes a role model.

Comments From Daum:


They can learn our obsession for private education, cheating and admission by bribery.


South Korea spends several trillion won in private education annually, only to take 24th place in education quality. I don’t know how much money Sweden uses for private tutoring. But if the money is less than ours, South Korea should learn from Sweden.

울산 바위:

Sweden has a level-headed political party in power. Fellow Swedes! Sweden will collapse if Loefven-led Social Democrats take power.


If Sweden needs a lot of slaves, Korean-style education couldn’t be better.

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  • A Gawd Dang Mongolian

    From what little I do know, Korean education is more about memorization and regurgitation of knowledge for the sake of grades. Those grades are used as markers to go to better schools and repeat the process.

    Effective for a career that requires a lot of memorization, not quite as much on one that requires application of knowledge.

    • Jahar

      Perhaps they should go more into detail as to which aspects of the system they are considering adopting. Also, I think the hyper-competitiveness in Korea and China is less about the education system and more about the culture.

      • Guest23

        Good point on the culture, seems like the resume of which prestigious school you went, means you’re pretty experienced and qualified for the job, then you’re going up the social ladder and bring wealth and honor back to the family, just basing it on what I’ve seen on the culture of both countries.

      • ytuque

        You can’t separate the educational system from the culture as both are Confucian or neo-Confucian if you make an issue of it.

    • Sillian

      The common secondary education in Korea revolves around exam preparation. No aid sheet allowed for any exams in high school. In order to quickly solve problems, you do have to memorize lots of formulas and shortcut techniques even if you completely understand how all of them are derived.

    • guest

      Memorization & regurgitation of knowledge isn’t unique to Korea.

      • A Gawd Dang Mongolian

        No, but Korea excels in it.

    • YellowMagic

      The grass is always greener on the other side.

  • Guest23

    Well that’s a bit hypocritical of him though, the survival of the fittest competition for grades, higher scores, and overall academic excellence creates an environment of 1/10 people will ever be on top, it’s a bit of the law of the jungle, and the application of what you learned and overall creativity is questionable with a majority of the Education requires extensive memorization.

    • chucky3176

      It doesn’t have to be necessarily like that. I think what Sweden can do is not copy the rote learning system, but implement the grading ranking system, and implement the university exam system. Korean employers put over emphasis on which schools the graduates are from, and what marks they got. And this track record follows Koreans for the rest of their lives. I doubt Sweden is like that at all, and I doubt Swedish companies care as much, which schools their applicants attended and what marks they got. The same values that Koreans put emphasis on, may not be as valuable or have less beneficial in Sweden. So I highly doubt, Swedes will go over the top like the Koreans do, even if Sweden implemented the Korean system.

      • Guest23

        The article sounds sensationalized, but you do have a point on fielding individuals for global competitiveness but not to the point where kids commit suicide.

  • Agorism

    This is a sensationalist article. It’s not as if this is a popular thing among Sweden or Swedish politics. It would be as if someone quoted a Tea Party Republican in the United States and said that it represented the perspectives of all Americans. This Swedish politician is just being edgy.

    • commander

      You may be right. But the journalist reported this story as it is quite interesting though the Swedish opposition leader is not in the mainstream in educational policy. Because it is quite interesting for many South Koreans who has been so far persuaded into believing that Northern European countries have better educational systems than they have.

  • Butsu

    In another article he says Sweden shouldn’t copy, but rather learn a few things and incorperate them into the Swedish school system. Because he also made some light comments on suicide and extremely long study hours, and the newspaper themselves really pushed that issue. Then again, this didn’t really take off, and it wasn’t really that much of a discussion.

    Which makes this into some utterly sensational garbage.
    “A political clash has erupted in Sweden after the country’s main opposition leader compared the educational systems of South Korea and

    A lot of commenters to all these news articles were really “for” this option, they however, have stopped going to school a long time ago, and only care about how Sweden looks internationally, we do have some problems with our system now, or rather, the students might have problems with it.

    I don’t know, I studied in Japan on a pretty strict school with a heavy workload, and it went so far that the stress actually broke my body and still have problems to this day. Now I don’t know how it is in Korea, but I guess they can have their similarities. Also, when you go to a school with a lot of Chinese and Koreans they have a really hard time expressing their opinions (in this I saw a slight change the younger the students were). Also I’m not that big of a fan of memorization, memorization which seems to have way too much of a focus. (emphasis on seems here, since I’ve never been to SK).

    • Comebackkid13

      I think you touched on a really interesting topic. I have also found that Japanese have a difficult, if not impossible, time expressing individual opinions and thoughts. I believe part of it comes from the culture of
      China/Japan/Korea to stress group harmony (at least, the Chinese used to) the most. Consequently, they don’t want to stand out by asserting sentiments that may conflict with those around them. That being said, even during private, one-on-one sessions with Japanese friends and coworkers, I generally observe that same difficulty expressing personal views. It has led the cynic in me to believe that many do not simply possess their own opinions, heh. I would stake a claim that a large part of this is due to the education system as well. Students in Asia aren’t writing essays to support their own assertions.

      As one of the other posters said, I think there is a golden mean
      between Western and Eastern education philosophies. Public school in the states was so darn easy. I was honors (lol, means nothing)
      and the work load was still absolutely minimal. There was one Chinese girl at my school and she felt that the pace was so slow that she took it upon herself to find private tutors outside of school,…she went to MIT, haha. I don’t blame her at all. If you are a gifted or above average student in the United States, you can find it extremely difficult to find a demanding and adequate pace for your education, especially if your
      parents are bringing home a normal salary. There are prestigious schools in my hometown Seattle, like the International School in Bellevue, with pristine reputations. However, schools like the International school can run above 20k/year. The International School itself is 33k/year for grades 9-12.

      I really admire some things about the Eastern style, I just
      question its outcome. If Westerners could keep the goals the same, stressing the same educational virtues, while implementing stricter standards and much higher reading and writing volume, I think you would have an excellent system. I mean, even when I was at the University of Washington there was so little writing. I read somewhere that University students in the 60’s spent about 15 hours a week just writing…..

      • Butsu

        Yeah it definitely comes down to strike a good balance between the two. And for Japanes/South Koreans/Chinese not stating their opinion, let’s just put that shit on Confucius!

  • chucky3176

    lol, I thought Sweden was supposedly some Socialist paradise or utopia. Why would they change anything, especially to a Korean system of all things? But if they want the Korean system, good luck. None of the students will probably last two days before they go bonkers and start diving off of buildings.

    Seriously speaking though, the Korean school system is a byproduct of a warped Korean cultural values. If Sweden copies the system only, and pass on the cultural values, they may succeed, who knows? A little more harder competition can do wonders to a socialist paradise where nobody has any ambition.

    • JoeChicago

      Really? No one has ambition in socialist countries? Then why does Sweden have such a large number of billionaires relative to there population? Seems like there are plenty of people with the ambition to be obscenely rich even in paradise.


      • Butsu

        Schh, JoeChicago! No one can know!

      • Huw

        To be fair, it’s not a socialist country really, no one has called it the socialist paradise since the 1960s when it first got the name. It is pretty leftie, high taxes and free services, but I feel chucky is basing his comment on a passing comment no one has uttered for a while in this case.

  • Rofl @ the photo comparison
    Cokeheads vs Bimbos

  • Mighty曹

    With Volvo, Saab, and Nokia facing extinction I guess they’re revamping the future.
    *Btw, I hope IKEA goes away too.

    • Miniluv101

      Never it uses prime 1930s German bureaucracy, as long as they don’t expand into Russian they’ll soon conquer the world of home furniture.

      • Mighty曹

        I used to buy everything IKEA until the quality went south when they started to have the products “Made in China”. Where pre-drilled holes used to be a beauty of precision are now often misaligned, making it difficult to complete the assembly. The material is also of a lower quality now. I still buy the Swedish meatballs though.

        • Butsu

          Totally agree with what you’re saying here. Still, pretty decent bang for your bucks when you buy stuff at IKEA.

        • lonetrey / Dan

          I like their cheap hotdogs >.>

          The meatballs seems nice, but I can’t see myself eating them after my friend recounted rumors about something in them… I an’t remember if it was “glass” or “horse meat”. Or something.

          • beyondhallyu

            It was horse meat. They got recalled and taken off sale all over Europe for a while as far as I know. Definitely in the UK anyway.

          • death_by_ivory

            Meh,horsemeat is delicious,people need to relax.

          • Mighty曹

            Yes, horse meat and other body parts. That’s why it’s delicious.

      • Have a nice day!

        Sadly you are right… Ikea has a strong following and is still a privately held company that makes a killing… the thing you cannot knock about Ikea is that their furniture is so low cost and trendy/stylish that they effectively empowered/enabled a huge demographic of buyer to be able to afford new looks for their homes… essentially making furniture afford-ably “Disposable”…

        As much as I dislike the drop in quality and echoed Mighty’s sentiments… I cannot knock Kamprad’s business model(s) and savvy… HUGELY profitable…

        • Mighty曹

          The business model is unquestionably the best and way ahead of its time. The packing of the products and the ease for the consumers to pick and check out is amazing.

    • Have a nice day!

      Minor correction… Nokia is Finnish not Swedish…

      Agreed that IKEA needs to go… use to be Swedish for common sense… but more in lines with… Ikea Swedish for crap.

      • Mighty曹

        Or sorry, thanks for the correction. I meant to say Ericcson, which has been in decline.

        • Butsu

          Actually Sony bought them out of the phone joint. Meaning that they will just keep running their other branches, business as usual.

          • Mighty曹

            No, I didn’t mean just the mobile phone division. Ericcson as a whole is in decline (especially after selling the mobile).

          • Butsu

            Oh really. Can’t be that bad though. Then again, only if it goes SAAB bad it will hit the news.

  • Miniluv101

    As a Swedish I can say for sure this is not a view shared by the Swedish population under 60y of age. Jan Björklund’s education policy is generally equalled to the Prussian or English education in 1800s in the eyes of us Swedes. Honestly, if Löfven really would be so stupid to promote an even more extreme version of an already hated policy a horde of angry teens would storm the Riksdag. And I say this as a guy who plan to vote on him next year.

    • Huw

      Thought it would’t be popular, I have no first hand experience of the education system in Sweden, so I don’t know for myself, but in Britain a lot of people in the know look on the Nordic countries as having some of the best education systems in Europe, whilst I don’t think we’d say that of the Korean system, which I do have experience of as I work in it. It’s not dreadful, but it’s pretty old school at times.

      • Guest

        “nordic countries” is too general, only Finland is known of that. Sweden is looking up into other education systems for a reason

        • Huw

          Well, I have no experience like I said, but we seem to look up to Sweden, our public education system is pretty lacking in some areas, so we look up to pretty much everyone else. I didn’t know it was only Finland looked on in such a good light, I guess they can’t all be perfect.

  • Korean linving in Paris

    There is a simple way to know what worth korean educational system :
    Ask to young korean couple having kids if they want to raise theirs childrens in korea or elsewhere if they can choose.
    FYI : None of my friends answered Korea until now.

  • death_by_ivory

    I always think that a perfect education system if such a thing is possible would be a mix of Western and Eastern ways.
    For example in most schools in the USA memorization is completely out the window,not needed and in Asia there is too much focus on it.So if we could find the golden middle it would be great.

    • Mighty曹

      Having experienced both systems I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • glenn

    How do I say these without being rude? Most of the Korean students are trained to excel at exams and to compete with each other. They use it as a way to promote their social status, a pretense. This leads to a lot of suicidal tendencies among students. They end up allocating up to 18 hours a day, a combination of school, hagwon and other extras. Did I mention that elementary students are not exempted? In fact, I saw students coming from school at 10pm-11pm, which totally shocked me the first time.

    In short, it’s not worth emulating at all, though their dedication is something that needs to praised.

    The only thing that rivals the importance of “education” in korea is their concern about their physical apperance.

    • kangsongdaeguk

      “In fact, I saw students coming from school at 10pm-11pm, which totally shocked me the first time.”

      Hah! Same with my aunt, who is working with a Samsung company here in PH, sent there in their Busan headquarters for some training. She was quite, “dafuq with these people?”

  • Ryan Kim

    Being a student at an American university with a high percentage of Koreans has really opened my eyes to the huge difference of learning styles between me and them. I have felt this way a long time, but my opinion was finally set in stone when I have recently had to form a study group with them per advice from a professor. It was this recent account that made me realize that they are only interested in memorizing and acing tests rather than actually having a grasp on the material.

    Studying with this group (where I was the only Korean American) was extremely disheartening for me. We were studying together for our class on the Roman Empire.

    During our study sessions, I was trying to look at the big picture:

    “Did the Roman Empire truly fall, or was it inherited by other people?”
    “Can we compare this once mighty empire to our own country? Are we Rome?”
    “How did the empire culturally evolve over it’s long and colorful history?”

    These are the questions the Koreans were asking?:

    “What were the names of all the emperors and what dates did they rule from?”
    “What date did the Roman Empire fall?’
    “What does the teacher want us to explicitly know so we can ace the test and not really learn the material?”

    I began to get frustrated and I asked these Korean girls if they were even interested in truly “learning” the material. They kind of giggled and told me of course they weren’t interested in getting a true grasp of the material. The only thing that mattered was knowing what the teacher wanted us to know so they could cram and ace the test. They explained to me that learning the material or the “big picture” is not important, all that matters is beating your peers and acing the exam.

    It was as this moment I realized that Korean do not “learn”, they simply cram and memorize only for exams.

    The worse part of this whole thing is that professors are playing along and now teaching this way. I am a history major, and I am rarely required to write papers anymore. Perhaps teachers have become tired of receiving papers from students whose first language is not English.

    Professors are also not interested anymore in their students learning the big picture of the material. All of my exams are just jotting down names, dates, battles, etc. They are not interested in even hearing your opinion and what you have taken from the material.

    THIS is the future of America, wake up people. Do you want to become a nation of robots that can’t think for themselves? Stop thinking that Koreans are somehow like us, that they can be our allies. They are just doing what they do best, COPYING us.

    Before spending thousands of dollars on your child’s college education, truly research the universities they want to apply to. Don’t send them to a school with a huge population of Koreans, because then your child will simply learn to memorize and copy like a robot.

    • commander

      You are right. Some Korean students in English speaking coubtries studies for the sake of studying, fail to get galvanized to learn about what runs through majors they are studying.

      After all, those Koreans who have been thought of studying as all about high grades and have never been given an opportunity to relish in learning, understanding applying new things, feel pathetic. Of course the expenses they spend for college diploma is a waste of time and money.

      They appear to put more of a top priority on college degree than passion of learning, which explain why the South Korean should not be dazzled by artifically colorful resumes they produce after their return to South Korea.

      • chucky3176

        Not to worry, the number of Korean students studying in the US is rapidly decreasing. Once over 100,000 few years ago, is down to 70,000 this year. The 70,000 students spend $2.4 billion each year on the US economy, so think about how much money that has been wasted each year by Korea, all the while “dumbing” down the smart American student population.

    • Jang

      Korean students dumbing down the American educations system. Tell me it ain’t so! Perhaps they have rich Korea INC. parents who pay off the universities which then tells professors to NOT FLUNK Korean students(despite their horrible Eng. speaking and writing abilities).

    • KCdude

      I experienced the same thing from those Korean students when I attended a Canadian university. Koreans from South Korea are a different race from your very ordinary Korean-Canadians.

    • Guest

      that sounds like me and I’m not even korean lol

  • ytuque

    Politicians who advocate the adoption of the S. Korean educational model do not understand it.

  • Chris Tharp

    I have worked in the Korean educational system for nearly a decade now, and while I have had some brilliant students and the system does produce results, deep understanding of material and critical thinking are nearly nonexistent. Sweden is having some growing pains as a modern country due to immigration and the economic malaise plaguing much of Europe, but my gut tells me that it still generally works well, that its education system and mixed economy should be an example to us all. This headline is misleading and, I’m sure, has very little footing in reality. I seriously doubt that there’s any kind of serious debate in Sweden about adopting the Korean system.

    • piratariaazul

      “Korean educational system … while I have had some brilliant students and the system does produce results ….”

      I think the top 5% student cohorts in all these countries are similarly capable and would perform well under any system, roughly speaking. These are kids who end up at Harvard from the public schools in the projects ….

      An educational system should be judged instead by how well it educates the middle bulge – the students in the 40%-80% range, and the superior performers in the 80%-95% range.

      Maybe Korea is good in squeezing the performance out of the 40%-80% cohort (albeit painfully to the kids); not so good for those in the higher tiers, 75% and up; and absolutely soul crushing for those 80%+ students, who could think more deeply and creatively…..

      Ironically, the pyramid is reversed in US…. If you are a high performer, it can be freeing

      • piratariaazul

        … especially at college level and up. But if you are in the mid-tier and below, you are absolutely on your own. Very sad.

      • Sillian

        You have a good point. I feel Korean public education is mainly designed to drag the average group up to a certain uniform level regardless of their individual academic aptitude. Most of them wouldn’t stand out in any other education systems. It is the top students who are more critically affected.

  • KCdude

    The Korean education system is a good way to produce psychopaths and we should not be happy about it.

  • Huw

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57611242/south-koreas-dreaded-college-entrance-exam-is-the-stuff-of-high-school-nightmares-but-is-it-producing-robots/ there’s a guy from korean unis with his view on the Korean system in this article, might be a good view to get.

  • Sunkyo Oh

    Haha Sweden can’t get enough of themselves.. They wanna copy Korean education system? That’s like ruining what they already have. I finished my 1st year in Korean middle school before I came to America. Starting in middle school, all you do is to memorize the information and possible answers the teachers give you and engrave it in your brain so that you can write the exact things down for questions in the exams. I did well that year by doing just that. But, what remains? Absolutely nothing. After I came to America, it took me a year or two to finally grasp their teaching method in secondary education institutions. I love how they encourage kids to look at the grand scheme of things in history and how to apply my knowledge in a project in science and engineering classes. Now, I go to college and I’m not afraid of writing papers or doing assignments anymore because I can recall things and develop my thoughts effectively. Back in middle school in Korea, for essay questions, we were not allowed to have answers that were different from THE RIGHT ANSWER.

  • Badass Biker

    As much as I love Koreans, their culture and the economic miracle that happened there, working or studying in Korea is something I’ll NEVER do, sorry if I offended Koreans.

    Japanese and Koreans are known in the world to study/work like crazy, to the point of suicide. I don’t think anyone who goes there to pursue their career would come back happy.

    I respect you guys for your hardwork, but I’m sorry. Its not something that I can emulate.

  • aili

    Atleast South Korea’s education is better than Mexican’s education!!

  • ytuque

    There is very little discussion and a strong emphasis on rote memorization. One only needs to look at the lack of meaningful cultural or scientific achievements by S. Koreans in the modern era. for proof that the Korean system stifles creativity. If you want mindless automatons to work in a factory, then by all means, adopt the Korean system.

    If you want further proof, watch a group of young Koreans and ask yourself, do you want your child behaving like that? Dig a little further and examine the youth suicide rate in Korea.

    I taught for many years in Korean universities unfortunately.

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