Globalization and its Effect on the Korean Education System

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As society amongst the world’s population continues to evolve and change, it would appear that the ideology of globalization has taken a firm root in many of the reformations that have occurred within different nation’s governmental actions and programs.  However, one such area that has been mismanaged has been the reformation of the educational system based upon the idea of globalization.  This has led many nations’ citizens to adopt a feeling of distrust and negativity against their own country’s public, and private, educational system.  One such example of this is the Korean education system.  To combat the feelings of distrust and dissatisfaction, many parents have taken matters into their own hands in the educational practices of their children by sending them overseas to receive schooling.  This possesses several unique challenges for the school aged Korean student that is placed into a new, unknown environment.  He or she is faced with the challenges of dealing with an entire new cultural system and is faced with the dilemma of adapting a second, unfamiliar cultural identity in order to gain acceptance.  The effect of globalization on the Korean education system can be roughly summed up in the following:  because the system in place within Korea has not been adequately kept in line with some of the world’s higher ranked national education systems, parents have moved their children out of the system, which only further detracts from it because the top students are removed from student population.  To combat these effects, the Korean government must revitalize their public education system in order to keep their youth from losing their competitive advantage when competing in a global market for top-level jobs.

The notion of globalization come from the shift in the world’s population to become more connected and be able to reach out to one another in many different fields including medical, technological, economic, social, etc.  The basic ideas behind globalization can, therefore, be categorized upon information and innovation.  When speaking of globalization, it is usually understood and accepted that the concept also places high value on the gaining and spread of knowledge because, “today’s massive governments of capital depend on information, communication, and knowledge in global markets,” (Stromquist & Monkman, pg. 43).  This is seen in the way Microsoft is handling their globalization efforts. What can clearly be connected based on this concept is the idea that for successful globalization to occur, the individualized population of an area must be able to not only gain information in both new and innovative ways, but they must be able to spread it to individuals not only in their own nation but to all of those in the connected world.  This means that the presentation of new, innovative knowledge must be in a way that is both quick and easy to understand for all those that are exposed to it, which is something that a strong educational system can indoctrinate within the youth of a nation.

To deal with this rapid spread and access to knowledge on a global scale, it is logical to infer that the world’s nations’ education systems would have to be altered and reshaped in such a way to reflect the fundamental changes necessary to keep the youth informed and competitive in a new global market.  However, the reality is not in line with the logical conclusion.  What is usually seen instead are “governments under pressure to reduce the growth of public spending on education and to find other sources of funding for the expected expansion of their educational systems,” (Stormquist & Monkman, pg. 44).  This seems counterintuitive because the lack of a strong, well funded education system can leave the youth of a nation to be left behind by their competition and not have developed the necessary skills deal with some of the most highly contested areas of development that are necessary for successful interactions on a globalized economy that is becoming more and more apparent.  What is becoming more and more apparent is the need for “employees with knowledge of foreign languages and anthropological perspectives of cultures to market products to customers around the globe and to work effectively with foreign employees and partners in other countries,” (Stewart).  However, there are still those that do not feel that the concept of globalization should be embraced and have adopted the more nationalist approach to their identity.

Seen as antithetical to globalization, the concept of nationalism attempts to downplay the major foundations of globalization.  From a nationalist perspective, globalization should not be fully embraced and be the reason for the implementation of systematic changes to a nation.  This doctrine argues, “globalization will weaken the functional power of the nation state…. and will disrupt the ethnic or national identity (of the people),” (Shin).  To combat the notion of a globalizing force upon a nation, many have adapted what has been called “defensive modernization.”  This concept is based upon the notion of protecting one’s cultural identity from an outside aggressor attempting to radically change one’s way of life.  A particular geographical area that has adapted this doctrine is that of Southeast Asia, specifically the country of South Korea.  

In the midst of the 20th century, South Korea, like other nations in its close proximity, wanted to adapt the predominate global forces of science and technology that were dominated by western ideology, however they did not want to lose their own cultural identity.  To attempt to find a median between the two, the slogan “Western technology, Easter spirit,” (Shin) was adopted by many nations until they could further develop a doctrine of defensive modernization.  For these nations, the ultimate driving force was to protect their cultural heritage from the Western aggressor that was forcing its way into their everyday life.  The strides taken were, therefore, to preserve, “national sovereignty and independence,” (Shin) and to not modernize and accept the practices of globalization entirely.  However, this notion and plan of preservation and not full integration has had lasting impacts and effects upon the population of the nation.

What is strange about the notion of globalization is that it has two opposite forces in work for it that, upon the surface, one would not expect to see as outcomes of the process.  Obviously, as a means of connecting individuals into a world conglomeration in such aspects of markets, technology, and information spreading, globalization brings individuals together.  However, at the same time, it appears to clearly provoke, “Defensive and exclusionary nationalism” among some that are exposed to the implications of joining the practices (Kim).  For the Korean people, this is a constant struggle to decide which side to take in the battle of the two forces.  Globalization has clearly been important to the introduction of new economic opportunities from around the world to the citizens of the nation, however the same forces that bring opportunities also leave questions about the national identity. With so many new opportunities on an economic level, the Korean people have had their “self-identity as a homogeneous people,” (Kim) challenged on the very basic levels.  

Perhaps it is for these reasons that the Korean people have continued to face such a social and cultural struggle in equality over the recent years.  Dealing with the backlash of the financial crisis that plagued the nation in 1997 and 1998, the general focus of the government has been to make fundamental changes to the nation in three major areas: work, consumption, and education (Koo).  Because of the financial crisis of the late 1990s, the recovery effort of many of the Korean people is still ongoing, as many of them experienced “a major disruption in the economy and livelihood,” (Koo), which lead to a sharp rise in the unemployment rate and failure of many businesses of the nation.  What can be seen from the people of the nation is a loss of respect and trust for the way in which their government handles many of the countries affairs, including that of the educational system.  It is of worth to note that many other countries also experience these educational problems as well, and, in some cases, they can be seen as a direct result of the effects of globalization (Park).  Regardless, the educational system has seen a great deal of backlash from the lack of governmental change and restructure, which has led to the nation’s citizens to view it, generally, in a negative light.  

When speaking broadly of a nation’s education system, it is important to realize and take note of the importance that globalization plays in education from the time of early childhood onwards.  As the concept of a globalized society continues to grow, it more crucial that policy reform be made to educational systems globally to reflect what is best for early childhood education and care.  Much like other aspects of international relations, there must be, “international efforts to forge a shared vision of children’s rights,” (Lubeck, Jessup, & Jewkes) in order to provide the most level playing field for the youth of the world to be able to work together.  Such measures should include that governance of “regulation, funding, access, curriculum, staff recruitment and retention, and parental involvement,” (Lubeck, Jessup, & Jewkes).  Should these factors all be adhered to, the educational systems of the world would all prepare their students to interact and work well with other individuals, regardless of their cultural identity, in creating a global society that can easily share knowledge and innovative ideas and work on a global economy seamlessly.  Obviously, this is not the case, as different nations of the world place a much higher, or lower, emphasis on the education of their youth.  The result being that many parents must take matters into their own hands when dealing with providing a strong education for their son or daughter.

One such area that many parents of South Korea are taking an active role within is the instruction and understanding of the English language for their children.  With the ability to spread information instantly across the world through sources such as the Internet, the English language has become one of the most essential for an individual to be fluent in, in order to be able to compete at a high level in the professional world.  In a sense, English works as both a local and global sign in that the status of an individual is raised not only on a global scale for being bilingual, but the individual also gains respect for mastering a language different from their own at a younger age, especially one that is so difficult to become fluent in (Park).  What this shows from a parental perspective is the involvement and caring nature that is shown to the education of the child.  This is just one example of the importance that some parents place upon education to their children within Korean society.

The pursuit of a quality education is at the front and center of the majority of Korean parents when asked about their children’s future.  A study performed to gain insight into what the parental attitudes were about their children’s educational pursuits and daily life revealed to what extent this feeling is exemplified within Korean parents.  The study’s findings suggest, “the desire of the parents for the educational success of their children is profound and it has a huge impact on their actual behavior towards their children,” (Yang & Shin).  The study also found that the parents of these children were willing to make sacrifices in their children’s personal lives in order to gain a higher quality education with the ultimate goals of acquiring wealth, career advancement, and a higher social status.  The areas that were often the most disregarded in this pursuit of education were: leisure, pleasure, and sleep (Yang & Shin).  What this shows is to just what extent the parents of Korean children are willing to do in order to provide their child with an education that will lead to the goals laid out by the parents of the study, even if it means putting their children in a higher stress situation in the short-term.  

This concept is not limited to the more mature students, as the same level of expectation and drive have been displayed by parents of even younger aged children.  This does not necessarily start with pushing their children to pursue a high level of education when they are in their younger age ranges, such as that of pre-school children, but it does lead to many parents laying the foundations for what will become a serious influence in their children’s lives to maintain a high level of dedication in the academic world.  There is significant statistical information that shows that the mothers of Korean society have an integral role in the upbringing of their children.  Further, it is the mothers that establish and indoctrinate their children into a very important level of values that will be carried by the children for the greater part of their lives.  The mothers consider the key concepts that they attempt to instill into their children come from the idea of “raising a child with good social and emotional characteristics,” (Park & Kwon).  As the society dictates, this revolves around high levels of academic achievement, therefore many mothers concentrate on these efforts even at a young, developing age for their children.  There is also a high level of comparison that the mothers feel exposed to in their own parenting practices.  Instead of instilling values and beliefs in their children that they themselves associate with, many mothers admit to following expectorations that did not “correspond with their personal parental beliefs and goals,” (Park & Kwon).  What this shows is to just what extent the Korean youth are exposed to the importance of a quality education, as the expectations begin even in their early childhood.

As previously noted, the Korean people have not fully embraced their government’s practices on a public stage since the financial crisis that significantly harmed a large proportion of the nation’s population.   With the lingering feeling of distrust still in many of the citizens’ memories, it is not that surprising to see that more and more parents of Korean children do not trust their nation’s education system for providing their child with the necessary tools to compete on a global economic market.  One of the major outcomes of this is to see more and more of the Korean youth sent overseas in order to receive an education.  This practice can be beneficial to the child, as they receive a quality education, but can have several major drawbacks from both a national and family sense.  Nationally, this practices further hurts the nation’s educational system as it removes many of the top students from schooling systems that are put into place.

By losing their best students, schools are often thrown into a positive feedback loop of negative consequences.  When top-level students are lost, it only becomes harder for the schools to raise their own accreditation, as their top-level students are removed from the facilities and not able to contribute to the school’s progress.  Without this level of academic progression, the schools are seen as not progressing in providing a quality education as they continue to produce mid-level students.  Without the production of top-level academics, the schools are unable to get additional funding necessary to raise their accreditation.  This only furthers the public notion that the schooling system is a waist of resources and a poor choice to provide an education to their sons and daughters, which results in more of the top-level students being pulled from the educational system and sent elsewhere. 

 In terms of the family disconnect that sending students overseas at younger ages creates, the consequences are negative for very different reasons.  When younger and younger students are sent to unfamiliar environments on the desires of their parents to gain a higher quality education, the students often feel added pressure to succeed.  The higher stress that this generates is harmful to the young student, as they are constantly reminded that they are in a location completely unfamiliar to them with no real family support system in place.  In fact, many students feel discouraged from addressing the problems that are occurring within their own lives with their family overseas because they have the guilt of being a financial burden upon their parents and do not want to cause additional stress to their families.  These feelings can eventual manifest in the form of general resentment of family members towards each other and can create a disjointed family structure in which a child can lose their want to retain their cultural identity, which is one of the driving forces in Korean society.

Regardless of the negative effects that sending a student overseas can have on both the nation education system and the family unit of Korean society, the simple fact remains that many parents choose to do this for their child.  From the 1990s to the early 2000s, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of pre-college study abroad students that have come from South Korea (Kang & Abelmann).  This general shift in sending students of younger and younger ages to overseas programs seems to reflect the core parenting ideas that have been put into place to deal with the pursuit of investment in education and a higher quality education for their children.  The shift towards sending children into such programs appears to escalate the general feeling of the society, which is seen in “social and economic anxieties,” (Kang & Abelmann).  This effort to further globalize their children is becoming more and more apparent in Korean society as more and more students are being sent to other countries in order to gain a stronger education.  The results of such an exodus of the youth has been met with criticism on a social level, but in terms of academics, the results are hard to argue against.

With the number of young Korean students studying abroad increasing with time, more and more data has been able to be collected about their time spent in overseas programs and that of their overall academic success that has come from being in such programs.  The majority of students that are sent overseas for education go to nations where English is the spoken language of both the common citizens and that of the academic world.  This still reflects the globalization principles seen in economics as English has become a world language.  Therefore, the students are sent to areas by their parents where they can become fluent in the language and gain an understanding of the societal expectations and cultural norms of the areas where the language is dominant.  This creates a deeper understanding of the globalized world in the students as they can experience firsthand the lifestyle that is often so different to the way in which they were raised and became familiar with.  The overall goal of improving their English competency skills are met with the use of such study abroad programs, and the Korean students are able to gain a good understanding of how to deal with other cultures, which is critical to the success of a globalized market.  

What has been documented is a huge increase with the number of study abroad students from Korea based upon the success of those that have been exposed to other English-speaking nations’ cultures.  In the United States, the number of elementary and high school Korean study abroad students has increased 13-fold from 1995 to 2006.  The number of students studying in the U.S in 1995 was at 2,259, where that same number had increased to 29,511 since 2006 (Lee).  What is more interesting and worth noting about this time frame is that the spread of a globalized economy really gained ground as the use of the Internet as a means of instant communication and interaction increased exponentially in this time frame.  The outcomes of such a higher number of study abroad students have created unique outcomes that are of particular interest to investigate and take note of.

Being placed within a different culture has prompted the students of the study-abroad programs to create their own networking communities in many cases.  The students have been seen to associate much more with other study-abroad students or Korean-American children.  What this has created is sort of a sub-culture amongst such students.  They are much more inclined to spend time with those familiar with them and grow to considerably enjoy the U.S educational system over that of the Korean education system for it is places much more emphasis on “students’ individual achievements and freedom within the school,” (Lee) as opposed to the strict, rank oriented education system of Korea.  What these students have shown is a “comparative advantage in unlimited educational competition” (Lee), which has been due largely to the creation of the close-knit communities that the study-abroad students have created. 

What is seen by man in the education field is the impact that globalization has had on the way that society has chosen to educate its youth.  For the Korean people, this has presented a unique set of challenges for those involved.  The struggle to accept and trust their government’s education of their youth has pushed many parents to send their students overseas to receive a higher level of education, as this is one of the most important aspects of raising a child in Korean society.  This action has, to an extent, damaged the accreditation of many Korean schools because many of the top-level students have left the nation in order to receive a more globalized educational experience.  For the students themselves, however, the action of being exposed to a different culture has had tremendous benefits.  The incorporation of the core cultural values of the Korean students have remained during their time in overseas programs from the formation of a close networking community with other students, while the exposure to a different form of educational experience has given them an advantage in the educational competition that the citizens of the world are facing in a globalized world.  Ultimately, the choice to continue to move towards a more globalized community will likely continue to grow over time, and as it now stands, it appears that the academic pursuits of many Korean students have laid the foundation for many students to come in the quest for gaining a competitive, quality education.

Works Cited

Kang, Jiyeon, and Nancy Abelmann. "The Domestication of South Korean Pre-College Study Abroad in the First Decade of the Millennium." Journal of Korean Studies. 16.1 (2010): n. page. 24 Apr. 2013. 

Kim, Samuel S. Korea's Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Koo, Hagen. "The Changing Faces of Inequality in South Korea in the Age of Globalization." Korean Studies. 31. (2007) 24 Apr. 2013. 

Lee , Doo Hyoo. "A study of the life and culture of young Korean students studying in the United States." Educational Research and Reviews. 5.2 (2010) 24 Apr. 2013. 2010/Feb/Lee.pdf. 

Lubeck, Sally, Patricia A. Jessup, and Abigail M. Jewkes. "Globalization and its discontents: Early childhood education in a new world order." Volume Advances in Early Education and Day Care. 11 (2001) 

Park, Ju-Hee, and Young in Kwon. "Parental goals and parenting practices of upper-middle-class Korean mothers with preschool children." Journal of Early Childhood Research. 15. (2009) 

Park, So Jin, and Nancy Abelmann. "Class and Cosmopolitan Striving: Mothers' Management of English Education in South Korea." Anthropological Quarterly. 77.4 (2004)>. 

Park, Sung-Jung. "The change of South Korea adult education in globalization." International Journal of Lifelong Education. 21.3 (2002)>. 

Shin, Gi-Wook. "The Paradox of Korean Globalization." Asia/Pacific Research Center. (2002)>. 

Stewart, Vivien. Globalization and Education. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2012.;

Stormquist , Nelly Penaloza, and Karen Monkman. Globalization and Education: integration and contestation across cultures. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000.

Yang, Sonam, and Chang Sik Shin. "Parental attitudes towards education: What matters for children's well-being?" Children and Youth Services Review. 30.11 (2008)>.