The Education Ministry recently rolled out plans to expand the use of "personality evaluations" in the national college admissions process as part of efforts to place more importance on personal social education in middle and high schools.
But the plan has sparked confusion from education circles as the government has presented it without details.
The ministry said it would push to apply a "personality test" section for admission, currently used by some colleges, to all higher education institutes starting next year.
Colleges that pilot the personality tests for admission will receive incentives, according to the policy revealed Thursday at the 2015 policy briefing at the presidential office.
But the ministry appears to have hastily presented the plan.
"We will need to conduct further research on how exactly we will increase the personality test part," said a high-ranking ministry official, suggesting that the ministry could recommend colleges to ask more personality-related questions in interviews.
The lack of explanation touched off a commotion among teachers and students, who felt the pressure of having to come up with a totally new admissions strategy.
"Many teachers are perplexed about having to deal with another policy that came out of the blue.
The ministry did not reveal any specific plans, but we as teachers feel like we have to come up with some kind of countermeasure," said a Seoul-based high school teacher surnamed Lee.
The Education Ministry attempted to address an array of complaints by reiterating that it is not introducing any new measures, but simply enhancing an existing one currently being practiced mostly at tertiary education institutions for teachers.
"The controversy stemmed from the general misunderstanding that the government has created a new college admissions model," explained another official from the ministry's university admissions division, adding that its plan is merely to accredit colleges that use personality tests effectively, and expand their models to other institutes.
But some experts expressed their concerns that the government's emphasis on personality tests may give birth to a new private education market.
While such a test is not conventionally covered at cram schools, they said Koreans' low trust in the public education system may drive parents to turn toward private education.
According to a recent survey by a Gangsa.com, a job information website for private education, 44.5 per cent of people aged 10 to 50 thought public education was not enough for their children's education, as opposed to 34.1 per cent who said it was.
The rest ― 21.5 per cent ― said it was "so-so."
But some predicted the new plan would have minimal effect.
"The confusion derives from the ministry introducing an already-existent policy as if it is a brand new one," said an official from local private education institute Uway.
"But I don't think the government plans will spark an increase in private education, since character education is not something private education can do anything about."
He added that it was unlikely that many colleges would add personality tests since it would prolong the admissions process.