Republic of Korea

Photo of Gyeongju

Korean Context

The Republic of Korea (South Korea) covers the southern part of the Korean peninsula. As of 2020, it has a population of approximately 52 million people who live over an area of 99,700 square kilometers (population density 519/km2). Similar to other East Asian countries, Korea has a tradition of Confucianism, however, rapid economic growth and influences from American-spawned mass culture starting in the 1960s have tended to override the traditional heritage of Confucianism in contemporary Korean culture (Calder & Fukuyama, 2008). As of 2019, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Korea is approximately 1,600 billion USD, making it the 14th largest national economy in the world (IMF, 2017). The rapid economic growth has resulted in dramatic changes in the country’s social structure and environmental quality. Today over 80% of South Koreans live in urban areas.

The Republic of Korea is a democratic republic, with a strong national government and local autonomous systems. The national government, based on the presidential system, consists of executive, legislative and judiciary branches. The local autonomous system includes 17 regional governments of provinces or metropolitan cities, and 226 local city or county governments. The Korean national curriculum is prescribed by the Enforcement Decrees of the Primary & Secondary Education Act. This serves as the basis for classroom content and textbook development. The national curriculum has been revised on a periodic basis to reflect changing demands for education, emerging needs of society, and new frontiers of academic disciplines. Regional offices of education and individual schools have limited ability to design their own curriculum within the allowable ranges of the national curriculum. Education has played a critical role in Korea’s economic growth by creating a well-educated populace and in social changes by sharing value systems and civic virtues. 

Traditions of EE in Korea

EE trends in Korea include conservation education, anti-pollution education, nature study, climate change education, and education for sustainable development. Additionally, holistic, critical perspectives regarding nature and humans' place/role in nature have begun to emerge. 

National EE policy in Korea has its roots in the Framework Act on Environmental Policy which was enacted in 1990. Article 25 states “The national and local governments shall develop and execute policies necessary to deepen citizens’ understanding of environmental preservation through education, publicity and so on, and to inspire citizens to voluntarily participate in environmental preservation efforts in their daily lives.” The Framework Act of Environmental Policy forms the foundation of Korea’s environmental policies today.

Environmental Education Promotion Act and Related EE Policies

Korea is one of eight countries with a national EE act. The other countries include the U.S., Japan, Brazil, Philippines, Taiwan, Colombia and most recently Armenia. Korea is the third country to have enacted national EE legislation, following the 1990 National Environmental Education Act in the U.S. and the 2003 Act on Promotion of Environmental Conservation Activities through Environmental Education in Japan.

The Environmental Education Promotion Act (EEPA) of Korea was enacted in 2008. Since then, the EEPA has supplied an influential legal framework for EE policy and has provided legal and legislative instruments for EE in Korea. The EEPA is aimed at promoting EE, and ultimately sustainable development, by supporting formal (K-16) and non-formal EE (ROK, 2008). 

The legislation process for the EEPA of Korea started in the early 2000s, based on the increased need for legislative support among environmental educators and the example of the National Environmental Education Act (1990) in the U.S. The draft bill was prepared through close collaboration among experts in the Korean Society for Environmental Education (KOSEE) and the Environmental Forum of the Korean National Assembly. The draft bill was revised through pre-legislative consultation among the Ministry of Environment, the National Assembly, and EE experts. The voices from environmental educators in communities and schools were gathered by KOSEE and the Environmental Forum of Korean National Assembly to influence lawmakers. The draft bill, however, did not pass during the 16th National Assembly which ended its term in 2004. The EEPA bill was re-proposed to the 17th National Assembly in 2007 and enacted in 2008. The Presidential Decree and the Ordinance of the Ministry of Environment for the Environmental Education Promotion Act were enacted in 2008.

The EEPA provides legal and legislative instruments for EE in Korea. It also states a legal definition of Environmental Education: “education to help the nation cultivate knowledge, capacity, attitudes, values, and so on which are necessary for preserving and improving the environment and putting such knowledge into practice, with the purpose of contributing to the sustainable development of the State (nation) and the local communities'' (Article 2, EEPA).

The EEPA of Korea has provisions on support for EE in schools (Article 9) and promotion of non-formal EE (Article 10) along with national/regional comprehensive plans on EE (Articles 5∼6). Major components of EEPA include:

  •     Formulation and implementation of Comprehensive Plans on EE (Articles 5-6)
  •     Establishment and operation of EE Promotion Committee (Article 7)
  •     Support for EE in schools (Article 9)
  •     Promotion of non-formal EE (Article 10)
  •     Training and certification for non-formal environmental educators (Articles 11-12)
  •     Development and distribution of EE programs (Article 13)
  •     Certification of EE programs (Articles 14-15)
  •     Designation of EE Centers (Article 16)

In the EEPA, the Ministry of Environment is intended to play a collaborative role with other central administrative agencies. Most important, the Minister of Environment shall formulate comprehensive plans on EE in consultation with the relevant central administrative agencies, including the Minister of Education in supporting EE in schools and the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries in supporting marine EE (Article 5).

Another key component of the EEPA is the establishment of national and regional EE centers to implement and support EE at these levels. According to the EEPA, the Minister of Environment may designate EE centers to promote the projects necessary to vitalize EE (Article 16), and governors of the 17 provinces or metropolitan cities may designate a regional environmental education center to support EE in the region. Certification systems for non-formal environmental educators (Article 11) and EE programs (Articles 14∼15) are also included in the EEPA.

To support the implementation of the EEPA and to promote EE in their regions, all 17 regional governments have enacted ordinances for EE promotion. Most of the regional ordinances for EE promotion include provisions on EE regional plans, regional EE centers, an advisory committee, and support for both formal and non-formal EE. Ordinances for school EE were promulgated by six regional offices of education to enhance support for formal EE. These all show ways of institutionalizing support for EE in Korea. 

The EEPA includes both the support for EE in schools (Article 9) and the promotion of non-formal EE (Article 10). Thus the national/regional EE plans and national/regional EE centers are supposed to cover both formal and non-formal EE, however, formal EE is generally prioritized.

National Association 
Korean Society for Environmental Education (KOSEE)
The EE researchers and practitioners in Korea formed the Korean Society for Environmental Education (KOSEE) in 1989 to promote EE research and practice. KOSEE usually holds bi-annual conferences in June and December. KOSEE also publishes its own research journal, the Korean Journal of Environmental Education (KJEE).

EE in the National Government 
Environmental Education Team, Ministry of Environment, Republic of Korea
Established in January 2018, the Environmental Education Team (division level) is working under the Policy Planning Bureau, Planning and Coordination Office of the Ministry of Environment. As of 2020, the Environmental Education Team is composed of ten (10) members.  

National EE Campaigns and Funding
Environmental Education Portal (
The Environmental Education Portal of Korea provides EE news, resources, project information, program participation guides, and so on.