The Ministry of Education, which maintains data on the private education industry, sent me these numbers:
What percentage of students go to private academies? Participation rate was 75 percent in 2009, down from 77 percent in 2007.
Number of registered cram schools nationwide
2005 71,447 (5.7 percent - increase over year before)
2006 74,493 (4.3)
2007 77,284 (3.7)
2008 79,898 (3.4)
2009 83,327 (4.3)
2010 84,123 (1.0)
The number of attendees increased dramatically from about 400,000 in 1980 to 5.4 million in 2010.
Cram schools are popular throughout East Asia, but Korea is the leading country in terms of participation, said Mark Brady, a professor at the University of Hong Kong who wrote a report for UNESCO on policy responses to private education around the world. He regards the growth of the private tutoring industry - what he calls shadow education -- with caution.
"Tutoring can be a good thing," he said. "It can help low achieving students catch up and it can help high achievers find a way to stretch. But Korean society feels trapped; it can't afford to opt out. If you do, you fall out of the race," he said.
The trend challenges "the time-honored belief that we should have a free education system for equity," he said. Families who are "paying for something value it differently."
And as parents invest more heavily in the private sector, "they let public schools abdicate their role" as an education provider, he said.