Special Education in South Korea
Park, Jiyeon, Teaching Exceptional Children
Special education in South Korea has made great strides both in number and quality of programs for the past 25 years since the enactment of Special Education Promotion Act in 1977. Few publications, however, provide updated portraits of special education in South Korea.
This article presents the current status of special education in South Korea in terms of legislation for special education, early intervention/early childhood special education, elementary and secondary education, and personnel preparation. It also discusses current issues with future directions in the special education of South Korea.
Geographic and Demographic Perspectives
Korea, located on the northeastern section of the Asian continent and at the east of China and the west of Japan, has five thousand years of history and culture. About 69,450,000 Koreans live in this country; among these, 47,275,000 people live in South Korea (Korea National Statistical Office, 2000). Because little is known about special education in North Korea, this article focuses only on special education in South Korea.
In South Korea, people with disabilities are expected to (but not forced to) register at the local government office to allow federal and local governments to establish an efficient welfare system based on the number of people with disabilities and their disability conditions. According to the 6-tier system that categorizes the severity of disability conditions into six groups, a tier number (between Tier 1 and Tier 6) is given to each registered person with disabilities by disability-diagnosis agencies. Tier 1 represents the most severe disability conditions; and the largest amount of benefits are given to the persons who belong to the Tier 1 group.
As of 2000, the number of people with disabilities who were registered at local government was 972,087 (Korea Ministry of Health and Welfare, 2000). The number of registered people with disabilities, however, is far less than the real number of people with disabilities. This disparity results from several factors: parents' unwillingness to register their children with disabilities at an early age, limited definitions of disability categories, insufficient benefits even after getting registered, and a lack of announcement about the registration process. When unregistered people with disabilities are considered, it is estimated that there are about 1,449,000 people with disabilities (about 3% of the population) in South Korea (Korea Ministry of Health and Welfare, 2000).
As an ancient Korean tradition, people with disabilities have been provided with care and assistance by the governments (e.g., Korea dynasty, Cho-Sun dynasty), as well as by their parents or neighbors, though no systemic education was offered to them until late 19th century. Christian missionaries from the United States and European countries tremendously contributed to the early development of special education. At the time, children with visual or hearing impairments were the primary recipients of special education. In 1894, Rossetta Sherwood Hall taught a girl with blindness, which was the first effort to provide special education for a child with disabilities. She also established the first special school for children with hearing impairments in 1909.
Education for children with other disability conditions started in the 1960s when the first personnel preparation program for special education professionals was established at Han-Kuk Social Work University (later renamed as Taegu University) with several special schools affiliated to the university.
The most significant landmark in the history of South Korea special education was the enactment of the 1977 Special Education Promotion Act, which mandated free special education and related services, such as physical therapy, speech therapy, and medical services, for children with disabilities (Seo, Oakland, Han, & Hu, 1992). …