Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Although I have adopted the information society rubric for this blog, it should be clear that education is a big part of the picture. Technology development is certainly an important part of information society development, but today's technological innovations could hardly take place without education. In addition, education is the source of most of the research and ideas that become the content flowing over modern networks. Furthermore, as the world becomes more closely knit together through transportation and communication, the globalization process seems to inexorably give more weight to foreign-language education, especially the learning of English. It is difficult to imagine that any other country in the world makes a greater overall investment in education than South Korea. Given its Confucian cultural heritage, there is a natural tendency here to respect and value scholarship, learning and testing. Hard data show that the nation invests more money in education, publicly and privately, than almost any other country. Parents will sacrifice almost anything to give their children the best possible education. Since the election of a new President here, the issue of how to revitalize the South Korean economy has taken center stage. The presidential transition committee has publicly announced many changes that the new administration will introduce, politics permitting. A large number of these have to do with education. For example, the college entrance administration will be revamped to give more discretion to individual universities in admitting students. However, more than education per se, the topic of English education has become a major national policy issue. The new administration proposes to gradually introduce a policy whereby all English classes in public schools are taught in English. It also proposes to strengthen public school English education in order to reduce the huge current expenditures on English training through private institutes or "hagwons." Beyond the expenditures on institute training here, the country also faces a rising services deficit, owing to the number of students going abroad for intensive English study. Future posts will deal with the major issues in education, English education and the overall effort to bolster South Korea's knowledge economy.