An explicit definition of inclusive education has not been found. The 2012 Act on Special Education for People with Disabilities (ASEPD), as amended in 2017, defines integrated education as ‘education provided for persons eligible for special education in a regular school with other persons of the same age which is suitable for the educational needs of each individual without any discrimination according to the type and level of disability’.
Special education needs
The ASEPD is targeted at persons with disabilities and those with special education needs. It provides an operational list of persons who may be considered eligible for special education provision, namely learners with visual, hearing, mental or physical impairments, emotional disturbance or behavioural disorders, autism, speech impairments, learning disabilities, health impairments, development delays or other disabilities (Art. 15).
Based on the ASEPD (Art. 17), education for learners with disabilities is provided in one of the following places:
- Regular classes in regular schools.
- Special classes in regular schools to provide integrated education to persons eligible for special education. As specified in the 1997 Higher Education Act, last amended in 2017, special classes for students in need of special education are established for all education levels, from kindergartens to high school.
- Special schools, which, according to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, provide elementary, middle and high school education and the knowledge, skills and social adaptability necessary for real life to learners with special education needs due to physical, mental or intellectual disabilities.
- In medical institutions, at home or in social facilities under certain circumstances. This is also known as ‘itinerant education’.
Special education support centres are established in each type of education institution at all levels of education to identify and assess learners eligible for special education provision (Art. 11). Each centre carries out the assessment and reports to the head of the district office for education, which determines eligibility. The superintendent of each office of education or the head of each district office of education is responsible for placing the selected persons in regular classes, in special classes within regular schools or in special schools by deliberation of the Special Education Management Committee, which operates under the control of the Ministry of Education (Art. 17).
The 1948 Constitution of the Republic of Korea, last amended in 1987, lays down the right to education for all in line with one’s abilities. It also emphasizes guardians’ responsibility for children’s education and the state’s commitment to promoting lifelong education (Art. 31). The 2007 Framework Act on Education reiterates every citizen’s right to learn (Art. 3) and sets out a non-discrimination provision for reasons of ‘gender, religion, faith, race, social standing, economic status, or physical conditions’ (Art. 4).
The 2007 Anti-Discrimination Against and Remedies for Persons with Disabilities Act (ARPDA), amended in 2017, is a comprehensive legal instrument to domesticate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. For disability policy, the adoption of the act represented a shift towards a human rights-based approach.
Expanding the compulsory provision in the 2007 Framework Act on Education, the ASEPD prescribes compulsory education from kindergarten to primary and secondary education levels for people with disabilities and special education needs within an adequate educational environment (Art. 3). It prohibits discrimination in access to special education and in admission to screening tests because of disabilities. Replacing the 1977 Special Education Promotion Act, the ASEPD set forth for the first time the realization of integrated education by establishing special classes in regular schools for students with disabilities within a comprehensive plan of individualized education, including curriculum adjustment, supportive learning devices and tailored teacher training (Art. 21).
Starting from the second half of the 1990s, policy development plans for persons with disabilities have been adopted every five years, systematizing actions across levels of government. The 2008–12 Fifth National Plan for Special Education Development operationalized the ASEPD provisions based on several goals, aiming, for example, to expand special education infrastructures and opportunities, strengthen education supportive services and promote higher education and lifelong learning.
The Framework Act on Education focused on gender equality (Art. 17.2), prohibiting discrimination and mandating national and local authorities to adopt a gender perspective in formulating and implementing education policies. The ARPDA provides specifically for non-discrimination of women with disabilities in any aspect of life (Art. 33 and 34).
The 2018 Framework Act on Gender Equality, amending the 1995 Framework Act on Women’s Development, prescribes gender equality education (Art. 36) in formal schools, training programmes and lifelong learning institutions to enhance awareness of gender equality. It also entrusts the Korean Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education (KIGEPE) with the promotion and dissemination of gender equality education (Art. 46), while the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is committed to designing a master plan for gender equality policies every five years (Art. 7). The current Second Framework Plan For Gender Equality Policies intends to promote awareness and culture by enhancing education in school and by raising the effectiveness of civic education on gender equality.
In terms of implementation, the K-Girls’ Day programme was launched in 2014 to address gender imbalances in the science and engineering sector, with the purpose of encouraging female students to pursue careers in STEM fields.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
With the 2008 Support for Multicultural Families Act, amended in 2017, national and local authorities have committed to adopting education measures for the promotion of cultural diversity and on preventing discrimination, and to providing education support to children of multicultural families to encourage their integration, for instance in language learning. With this purpose, preliminary Korean as a Second Language schools have been set up as regular schools for children with migrant backgrounds. In addition, annual education support plans have been formulated to cater for the needs of multicultural students, to support them to integrate public education and to raise awareness of multiculturalism. Under the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, multicultural family support centres have been established to provide education and counselling.
People living in rural or remote areas
The 1967 Act on the Promotion of Education in Island and Remote Areas, last amended in 2013, aims to foster the development of compulsory education on islands and in remote areas, namely mountain, isolated, reclaimed and mining areas and areas within the Civilian Control Line, that present any geographical, economic, cultural or social disadvantages. The act prescribes the adoption of customized measures, including securing school infrastructures, providing teaching and learning materials and promoting community activities (Art. 3).
Education is free of charge, as laid down in the Constitution. The 2011 Act on Prevention of Child Poverty, Support of Children, Etc. intends to provide ‘impoverished’ children with opportunities to benefit from the welfare system, including in education, without discrimination. In terms of implementation, education expense support covers tuition fees, meal plans, internet fees and after-school activities for students from poor households, while an education allowance covers tuition fees, school supplies and auxiliary textbooks.
Gifted and talented children
Based on the 2007 Framework Act on Education, gifted children are entitled to receive special education in the fields of sciences, art and sport (Art. 19). The 2017 Gifted Education Promotion Act seeks to encourage gifted children to develop their innate potential by providing them with tailored education.
The 2016 Refugee Act establishes that refugees and their children as well as asylum claimants and foreign minors are entitled to receive elementary and secondary education as Korean citizens (Art. 33) and can obtain acknowledgment of their education degrees completed abroad (Art. 35). Under the 2012 Immigration Act, refugee children and stateless children under 19 are considered persons in need of special protection and benefit from social integration programmes, including in education (Art. 39).
Under the Ministry of Education, the Special Education Policy Division at the Student Support Bureau supervises special education provision.
As established by the ARPDA, the Ministry of Education is expected to establish cooperative systems among the central administrative agencies, including representatives of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Ministry of Employment and Labor, and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.
A Gender Equality Council has been set up under the Prime Minister to deliberate on and coordinate policies on gender equality.
The curriculum along with education methods, materials and facilities are provided to meet learners’ abilities according to their personality, values and individuality. The National Institute of Special Education is in charge of developing curricula, textbooks, and teaching and learning materials.
Accessibility is comprehensively regulated under the 2017 ARPDA according to the principle of reasonable accommodation. To facilitate accessibility for people with disabilities and other needs, the 1997 Act on the Guarantee of Convenience Promotion of Persons with Disabilities, Senior Citizens, Pregnant Women and Nursing Mothers has promoted the installation of various devices complying with accepted installation standards, including in schools (Art. 9).
The curriculum for special education at all education levels is designed and adjusted according to the type and degree of disability (Art. 20). The 2007 Framework Act on Education established the Deliberation Committee for Equal Education of Male and Female to examine the criteria for and contents of school curricula for the advancement of gender equality in school education (Art. 17.2).
ICT and learning materials
Students with disabilities who attend university are entitled to benefit from supportive materials, such as learning assistive devices and technology, under the ASEPD (Art. 31). In case of integrated education, learners eligible for special education have the right to access adequate textbooks and assistive and alternative teaching equipment (Art. 21).
Since 2013, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has distributed gender equality learning materials to lower-grade, middle-grade and higher-grade students and teachers.
As established by the 2007 Framework Act on Education, local authorities are responsible for providing materials to implement curricula that suit the specific education conditions of islands and remote areas (Art. 4). Learners in disadvantaged locations also benefit from free textbooks (Art. 3).
Special education teachers are professional teachers who have obtained a qualification for teaching special education in special schools, special classes and/or itinerant education settings. The number of teachers in charge of special education is set as one per four students, as established by the Enforcement Decree of the ASEPD (Art. 22).
The ASEPD mandates the state and district offices to provide adequate training to these professionals. It also establishes that teachers in regular schools receive at least 60 hours of training on special education to support integrated education of learners eligible for special education.
With the purpose of providing individualized education (Art. 22), a support team consisting of guardians, special education teachers, regular education teachers, counsellors and professionals in charge of special education-related services is expected to be set up in each school.
In order to support education for future careers and vocation, qualified experts are recruited in each secondary or higher education-level school (Art. 23, ASEPD). Principals of secondary and higher education are required to attend vocational rehabilitation training to be able to address the demand of learners in need of special education (Art. 23).
In terms of recruitment process, a quota system was introduced to recruit persons with disabilities to the teacher profession.
The KIGEPE has offered different courses on gender equality education to teachers. It launched online courses in 2011 and a specific programme on gender equality and gender violence for elementary and secondary school teachers in 2014.
People living in rural or remote areas
The 1967 Act on the Promotion of Education in Island and Remote Areas, amended in 2013, provided for housing for teachers deployed in remote areas and on islands. They also receive preferential opportunities for training and related reimbursement.
The National Institute of Special Education publishes annual reports on special education statistics. The Republic of Korea provides detailed statistics by level of education according to the Framework Act on Education (Art. 26.3).
Data is also collected on the number of special schools, by region, on the number of students attending special schools, and on the number of teachers allocated to special schools. According to the ASEPD, a report on special education is produced every year (Art. 12), while a survey on the actual status of special education is carried out every three years (Art. 13.1). If it is considered necessary for improving tertiary education provision, the Ministry of Education may require that a survey be conducted on the actual status of the education of persons with disabilities who attend universities (Art. 13.2).