Fulbright Forum – January 28, 2011

Michael Alison Chandler

Reforming one of the World’s Best-Performing School Systems

By many measures, the South Korean education system is the envy of the world. Thanks to dominating performance on international test and skyrocketing college attainment levels, Korean schools attract delegations from developing countries and frequent praise from President Barack Obama.

But many South Koreans regard the education system as a culprit in escalating social problems, including the plummeting birth rate, record numbers of suicides, and a deepening rift between rich and poor. The government is in a never-ending battle to reform the system and to wrest control back from a frenzied private sector that is draining family budgets and keeping children at their desks until the early hours.

The presentation will offer a glimpse at the state of education in South Korea today, focusing on English instruction, where the private industry is booming with English kindergartens, English swimming lessons, and study abroad programs. How can public schools compete? What is the government doing to keep English education equitable?


Michael Alison Chandler is a journalist at the Washington Post, where she has written about local education issues since 2006. She became interested in learning more about Korean education while covering the immigrant community in Washington’s suburbs.

Chandler is a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and a former Coro Fellow in Public Affairs in San Francisco. She has also contributed stories to National Public Radio, the Santa Barbara News-Press, and the Salt Lake Tribune.