Global Perspectives, Experiences and Implications
CHAPTER NINE: Transforming Education in South Korea: Currents in Critical Perspective: Sohyun An
From a distance, South Korea is doing well in educating its young citizens. The country is one of the most literate and well-schooled nations in the world (S-B. Kim, 2005). Almost all young people complete secondary school, and more than 80% of high school students pursue higher education (Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, 2009a; Korean Educational Development Institute, 2008). South Korean students are among the top performers in PISA and TIMSS, the international assessments of math and science, and they receive international media attention from time to time (Beaton et al., 1996). Considering the dire situation following liberation from Japan in 1945 and the devastating Korean War (1950–1953), the current state of South Korean education reflects a remarkable educational transformation (Seth, 2002). When the 35-year (1910–1945) Japanese colonial rule in Korea ended, the majority of adult Koreans were illiterate. Mass primary education had only recently begun, and less than 5% of the adult population had a secondary or higher education degree. Thus, the current educational performance of South Korea is remarkable.
From within, however, the South Korean educational system manifests huge problems. Almost everyone is unhappy with it. Young students in South Korea are—for the third year in a row—the unhappiest subset among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries (McDonald, 2011). A large number of students leave home each year for “better,” “more humane” education in other countries (Koo, 2007). Students are stressed by countless exams and...