South Korea is on the reformster short list of Countries We Want To Be Like (right up there with Finland and Estonia).
Maybe I'm behind on the international comparison discourse, but my impression is that we're supposed to regard the former Soviet bloc as pathetically backward following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Thus, any time we underperform Estonia, Poland, Lithuania, etc., it is simply an embarrassment.
This, of course, forgets that these countries have long intellectual traditions on their own, and in particular were no slouches in math and science under communism. There is no particular reason to think we should outperform all these countries in all areas of education indefinitely.