What can we learn from South Korea?

Of all the places I’ve visited, I’ve not seen technology so deeply embedded into daily life anywhere as much as in South Korea. Boasting technology giants such as Samsung and LG, South Korea places a conspicuous high value on technology in practically all aspects of life.

Korea’s remarkable technology driven growth has also been accompanied by improvements in social equity. How? Investment in human capital – as evidenced by their PISA results in recent years.

South Korea is well known for their results in the OECD PISA survey

Korea rides high in PISA (pic c/o Wikipedia)

Unlike Finland, whose high ranking in PISA can be attributed to excellent public schooling, Korea’s investment in human capital is significantly influenced by private investment. Parents with school-age children spend close to 25 percent of their income on education and all parents spend a large portion of their income on supplementary educational materials. Private education cost 3.95% of GDP in 2006. According to colleagues in South Korea, students acquire about 30 percent of their formal learning through their schooling, and the rest through supplementary measures.  

So what motivates parents to spend such large amounts of money on private tutoring outside the state schooling system? The main driver is that education is viewed as being crucial for success. At three or four years old, Korean children begin the long and strenuous race to higher education where Science and Engineering dominate.

Examination time is a very serious times of the year and the whole pattern of society changes. Businesses often start at 10AM to accommodate parents who have helped their children study late into the night and on the evenings before exams. The entire schooling system is geared to college entrance, so the curriculum of most schools is structured around the content of the entrance examination.

The Korean government spends generously on education (4.5% GDP in 1986); children spend a lot of days in school (220 days in Korea vs 180 days in the US); and school children work very long hours too. While these factors help with test scores, Korea is remarkably inefficient at a PISA criterion known as “study effectiveness”. South Korea ranks only 24th out of 30 developed nations in this measure. Top in study effectiveness is Finland, where time in school and hours spent studying is significantly less than Korea.

While many if not most other countries look on Korean performance on international tests like PISA with envy, in Korea itself there appears to be an intense pressure to do better, and in this highly technocratic country, its little surprise that technology is seen to be an important component.  

Technology Developments

Korea has been ‘computerizing’ schools for the last 15 years or so, and was the first country in the world to provide high-speed internet access to every primary, junior, and high school. ICT is also an increasing focus in the Korean Government’s education strategy, and in recognition of their progress, Korea won 1st prize from UNESCO for ICT in Education in 2007. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that this lead to Korea coming top in PISA Digital Literacy tests in June 2011 – however computer use is often restricted to teachers presenting information to students.

The real reason Korean students do so well in Digital Literacy is the intense use of technology after school – in Internet cafes, “cram schools” and the home where children can use the world’s fastest home Internet connections – on average 100 Mbps now, and with plans to increase this to 1 Gbps.

Several government initiatives have been set up to bridge the gap between the different levels of effectiveness of learning at home and at school. The overall goal of Government ICT initiatives is to ensure that by 2014 Korean school children will be competent with 21st century skills and are talented at innovating with future digital technology.

Much of the government’s initiative in ICT is channelled through KERIS – a Government Research Institute that acts as the country’s national ICT/education agency. KERIS’ Future Schools programme has conducted 39 research projects and 14 development projects focussed on new learning methods based on new technology. 

Infrastructure Development

The current priority from a budget standpoint is the acquisition of hardware and modernising class facilities. By 2010 there was a ratio of 5 students per PC – the intent of this investment was to support the development of creativity and problem-solving.

IT Expenditure Priorities

A second budget priority is to increase the number of classrooms that have been transformed to achieve “ubiquitous-learning” (u-learning).

Digital Textbook Project

KERIS has been piloting ‘digital textbooks’ in various forms in preparation for the move by 2015 to using digital textbooks in all schools in all subjects at all levels. The idea is that digital textbooks will be accessed/viewed on many different types of devices, from tablets to desktops to laptops to phones.

Cyber Home Learning System

In an attempt to reduce the cost of private education KERIS also developed content for the Cyber Home Learning System. Launched in 2004, CHLS is an online learning service supporting student’s self-directed learning. Click here to find out more – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CF8XdvA4ajk

Cyber Home Learning System

The next generation of the CHLS will include community, e-portfolio and analytical functions.

Next Generation of CHLS

EDUNET

KERIS set up and operates EDUNET, an educational information service which distributes a diverse range of high quality educational content. Content ranges from sound, photo, image, animation, module and video and is all specified by curriculum. As of October, 2010, the number of EDUNET users reached 6.17 million out of a school student population of 7.7m. To see a sample of the content, view a short video here. 

Education Broadcasting Services on the Internet (EBSi)

A service that has seen a sharp rise in growth recently is EBSi. This is where key education broadcasting service assets are made available for download. In 2010, daily usage of video-clips of lectures was 574,461, a 78% increase from the same period of the previous year.  

Teacher Training

Advances have been made too in teacher training. Not only are increasing numbers of teachers licenced to teach ICT, distance education training based on e-Learning has become the core method of teachers training. Distance learning is available to students too via “Air and Correspondence High School”.

NEIS (National Education Information Service)

The Korean Government is keen to develop the use of data systems in education. In a drive to reduce teacher workload, an administration system called NEIS (National Education Information Service) was developed. By streamlining procedures, many administrative processes can now be done in one-step. The system connects all stakeholders of the student, to allow them to get “to Know Our Children Better”. NEIS integrates student records across a range of fields including assessments, examination and health data.

The first task in creating NEIS was to develop the physical infrastructure. The aging facilities of the overall education management centre and 16 Metropolitan and municipal education offices were replaced. 3,800 servers with databases were installed in schools and integrated into a datacentre comprising 100 servers in upstream education offices.

To help teachers adapt, training is provided, and structured guides are available on the teacher area of Edunet.

 

(MPOE – Metropolitan and Provincial Offices of Education)

(MEST – Ministry of Education, Science and Technology)

After infrastructure, the next key ingredient was Business Process Reengineering and Information Strategy Planning (BPR/ISP) for constructing the business management system for the MPOEs. A transmission system for electronic funds transfer (EFT) system was created at the Korea Financial Telecommunications and Clearings Institute.

The School Information Disclosure System allows anyone including students and parents to easily receive information about schools. The system is designed to increases parents and the local community’s interest and participation in the schooling system. In addition, the government and the Offices of Education are expected to boost policy achievements by establishing even more efficient policies through situational reality analysis of school units using the School Information Disclosure System.

Where next?

Whilst Korea is developing one of the best IT infrastructures in the world, there are three key areas that need focus:

  • According to “Adapting Education to the Information Age”, Software Infrastructure in Korea is behind to developed countries and a change is required to develop capacity in this area.
  • A second area for development is lifelong learning. 28% of adults participated in the lifelong learning in 2009, which is lower than major advanced countries – eg EU average participation rate is 37.9%.
  • Perhaps the most important area of focus is 21st century skills. Korea has few programs in this area, and with Communication and Collaboration now part of the PISA 2012 framework, this area is in need of development.

To learn more:

Excellent blog article by Michael Trucano with links to in-depth resources: http://blogs.worldbank.org/edutech/e-learning-in-korea-in-2011-and-beyond

5 thoughts on “What can we learn from South Korea?

  1. We could certainly learn from countries in the East. It is clear from the table the emphasis they put on learning outside of school has a positive impact. If more parents ingrained learning into their children’s lives we would be better off.

  2. We’re a group oof volunteers and opening a neww scheme in our community.
    Your website offered us with valuable info to work on. You have done an impressive job and our entire community will be thankful to you.

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