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A Cultural and Philosophical Perspective on Korea's Education Reform: A Critical Way to Maintain Korea's Economic Momentum
Author: S.J. Chang
Region: Asia
Location: Korea, South
Published March 25, 2008
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During the past several decades numerous discussions about the problems of education in South Korea have been advanced by government officials, education experts, teachers, students, parents, as well as the general public. Yet the problems still persist, and many would argue that the situation has been worsening in recent years.
As this paper revisits the issue and makes an attempt to seek viable solutions at this particular juncture, it finds its rationale in identifying one vitally important aspect of the whole issue that has long been ignored by most discussants. Namely, this paper points out that the ultimate causes of Korean educational problems are cultural and philosophical in nature.
Such a proposition is presented on the premise that a society’s institutions in major functional areas such as politics, economy, law, journalism, and education are a direct reflection of its culture, philosophy, and value system. Insofar as education reflects the society’s cultural and philosophical tradition, it merits our attention to examine Korea’s cultural legacy and philosophical heritage as we critically discuss the current educational problems in Korea.The oft-cited economic progress of Korea probably owes much to Korea’s past education system, however inefficient or dysfunctional it may have been. But with its lackluster performance and dwindling momentum in recent years, the Korean economy is at a crossroads. As Korea’s traditional education system is found unfit for the new knowledge economy, many argue that the key to Korea’s survival and prosperity lies with a radical educational reform.
The well-documented education absolutism in Korea has been producing one anomaly after another, prompting countless remedial measures. However, the proposition that the root causes of all these problems lie in the culture and philosophy of the Korean society indicates that those remedial efforts may well turn out to be futile, as they can offer only temporary symptomatic treatment for educationinduced political and economic illness without getting to the essence of the matter. Yet, this proposition also serves as a warning that Korea’s educational reform cannot be easily attained without an enlightening evolution or shift in Korea’s culture and philosophy.

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