Seoul / Gangnam : The City With Four Tools (1990-2000) 3-2 Private education institutions as social polarizer

Gangnam, following the previous post, has turned into the national education hub with the relocation policy of schools. Education combined with the apartment building brought in massive population. After 1989, the loosening of the ban on private tutoring further enhanced Gangnam’s role as an educational center. Gangnam became not only the hub for regular systemized education but also a hub of private education which provides additional after-school education. Accompanied by the “school district 8”, more families tried to move to the area, resulting in the soaring price of the real estate.

Private supplementary tutoring (Hakwon) has long been a significant public concern for the South Korean government because it challenges the center belief in education as an equalizer of the society and a means that provides social mobility. It is perceived as a field that high-income families consume additional educational resources resulted in increased social stratification and inequality in access to higher education. Specifically, in 1980, the government passed the 7.30 Educational Reform Bill, banning all supplementary tutoring of commercial nature as well as prohibiting colleges from administering their own college exams. As ambitious as it sounds, it proved to be hard to regulate since the fundamental desire of the people has remained unchanged. Thus, the regulation was gradually loosening throughout the 1990s, resulting in the drastic increase from 14.9% in 1989, 21.8% in 1991 and to 59.4% in 1997 (Kang 2010) .

As private education became popular in Korea in the 1990s, it generated a huge shift of hagwons to Gangnam. It started because of the change of policy towards private institutions and the pro-egalitarian policies to deprive students of the right to choose the schools they wanted and randomly assign students to schools within their school districts. Daechi Dong became the perfect location to relocate because of its good geographical position as the main roads in Gangnam run through this area and the line 3 of Seoul Metro pass through the region and its relatively pure residential characteristic. Large-scale middle-class apartments provided the source and the relatively residential district provided the environment without any businesses harmful to juveniles. The relatively low rent compared to Apgujeong-dong and Sinsa-dong in the past quickly concentrated over 300 Hagwons in the area, giving the area the nickname — Mecca of private education. (M. Park, The Encyclopedia of Gangnam-gu 2013)

Other than the regular private education that middle-class family takes in Daechi Dong area, places with high-income families such as the most expensive residence area – ApguJeong-dong has its corresponding private education clusters. Specialized school and studying abroad has become another form of education that is specific to the higher income families. Hagwons for preparing students for Specialized schools and studying abroad tend to cluster in these high-priced apartment districts. In Danga Ilbo written on June first, 1993, the phenomenon could be seen.

Students at Gangnam District prepare their entrance exam to art universities at a street in Apgujeong where a lot of art institutions. This art institution street in between Sinsa-dong Misung Apartment and Apgujeong-dong Hanyang Apartment is smaller in size than that of one near Hongik University, but it is the biggest among Gangnam District. Established around the 80s, there are 30 art institutions and 10 art studios.

If we view the statistic provided by district now, Apgujong is the area with the highest expenses at 1.317 million won on additional private education. In addition, it showed that the higher the household income, the more expenditure on private education. (M. Park, The Encyclopedia of Gangnam-gu 2013)

Education that was once the driving force for decentralizing Gangbuk area has now turned to represent social status of families creating the centralization of specific social class and the polarization of the whole society and Gangnam.



Kang, I. “The history and meaning of private education policy. Critique on Education.” 2010.

Kim, Sunwoong, and Ju Ho Lee. Demand for Education an Development State: Private Tutoring in South Korea. March 2001.

Korea, Statistic. Household Income and Expenditure. 02 26, 2001.

Lee, Mun Woo. “”Gangnam Style” English Ideologies: Neoliberalism, Class and the Parents of Early Study-Abroad Students.” nternational Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 2016: 35-50.

Park, Hyu Yong. “Emerging Consumerism and the Accelerated ‘Education Divide’: The Case of Specialized High Schools in South Korea.” Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 2007: 16.

Park, Minjin. The Encyclopedia of Gangnam-gu. 2013. (accessed 12 14, 2017).

—. The Encyclopedia of Gangnam-gu. 2013. (accessed 12 13, 2017).

Shin , Jung Cheol. “Higher education Higher education development in Korea: western university ideas, Confucian tradition, and economic development.” High Education, 2012: 59-72.

3 Comments on “Seoul / Gangnam : The City With Four Tools (1990-2000) 3-2 Private education institutions as social polarizer

  1. Very convincing argument Ina, really interesting. It is quite a typical phenomenon that, in Asian cities, high schools with good reputations often become centers of urban development. In China, being around schools is always one of the most important virtues of an apartment. In this sense, educational institutions might be one of the most overlooked players in the process of urban development. However, I feel maybe there is more happening around seoul during this period. I wonder whether the rapid development of the Gangnam had anything to do with any other events.

    • The rapid development of Gangnam is definitely responding to various factors. The decentralization of the Gangbuk was also a political move.In 1968 a North Korean commando assault on the presidential building, in anticipation of a possible war, a plan was drafted to move the capital’s population center from the north to the south of the Hangang river. The rather inconvenient transportation method provides the natural barrier. The moving of the high schools and university is speculated by some of the scholars that it was a move also to prevent the presidential residence from the attacks and strikes of students and activists protesting for democracy.

  2. After reading your post, I realise South Korea shares a similar situation as Hong Kong. Parents tend to choose to live in a district with better schools. But usually the flats around these areas will be more expensive. Only the middle class or above can afford the high rent. Also, schools have a high standard in selecting students, which all-round students will have a better chance in getting into better or more famous schools. Students who know better sports or arts or music will have benefits. These tie back to the issue of resources. More well-off family can provide their children a better environment. Therefore, I still have a doubt of whether education can really improve the social mobility of the lower class children.

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