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Social Infrastructure

Establishment of Kumoh technical high school

1. Background
 
As Korea began to make its rapid transition into an industrializing society in the mid-1960s, one of the greatest obstacles lying in its path was the absence of sufficiently skilled technicians and engineers. The number of skilled technicians per unit of population in Korea in 1969 was one-sixth that of the United States, and there was not much to speak of in terms of education and training for Korean technicians.[1]


Under the enduring influence of Confucianism, Koreans have traditionally regarded manual labor and commerce as less than noble occupations. It was thus very difficult to develop a program of quality education and training for technicians during this period. Even vocational secondary school curriculums were more focused on theory (or the college entrance examination) than practice. By and large the graduates of these schools ended up going to general universities rather than to specialized trade schools.


The most urgent task facing Korea’s industrialization project during this period was the development of a qualified and skilled workforce. This naturally raised the need to establish prominent schools that could change the Korean mindset in regard to technical and vocational education. In essence, Koreans needed to be reminded of the impressive technical skills and craftsmanship they had possessed for centuries even before the Japanese occupation. Thus the task involved not only creating new infrastructure and institutions, but also changing people’s value systems and perceptions.[2]
 
 
2. Details
 
The specific plan for establishing a new vocational high school originated with an initiative unveiled by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in 1970 on the creation of private schools that could provide technical and vocational education. The ministry well realized the increasing need for technical education and skilled technicians amid the national drive toward development, and thus began to contemplate measures and plans for establishing vocational high schools dedicated to teaching and training students in industrial technology.


As the ministry lacked proper authority over creating new public schools—general or technical—it turned its attention to private schools instead. It sought to develop a wholly new and independent model of education that could achieve the given goals without interference from government agencies and bureaucrats with different interests. However, a major stumbling block to the plan was insufficient financial and technical resources. The ministry thus turned to aid from Japan[3] to solve the problem, as there were few alternatives to development aid during this period. The plan for the construction of a private vocational high school was officially proposed to the Japanese government in 1970, with Tokyo ultimately agreeing to provide the necessary aid for the school.
 
 
< Historical timeline for Kumoh Technical High School >
- May 1970: The Korean Ministry of Commerce makes its official aid request to the Japanese government
- July 1970: The Fourth Korean-Japanese Cabinet Meeting is held, and culminates in an agreement on creating a technical high school through a partnership between the two countries
- November 1970: A Japanese delegation headed by the then Japanese Minister of Culture visits Korea to conduct a preliminary study
- August 1971: The governments of Korea and Japan enter into an aid agreement for the creation of Kumoh Technical High School
- November 1971: The governments of Korea and Japan sign the first-year phase of the aid agreement
- November 1972: The Korean government grants permission to build the school
- March 1973: The first admission ceremony is held, admitting 360 students in total, specializing in the five areas of machine-working, metal plate welding, metalworking, casting and woodwork, and electricity
- May 1973: Japanese teachers are appointed
- February 1974: The governments of Korea and Japan sign the third-year phase of the aid agreement
- May 1976: Japanese teachers return home

 
[1] Oh Woncheol, Korean-Style Economic Development 7: I Don’t Mean to Wage War, KIEP, Oct. 1999, p. 269.
[2] Oh, 1999, pp. 252-265.
[3] Oh, 1999, p. 268.


Source: Korea International Cooperation Agency. 2004. Study on Development Aid and Cooperation for South Korea: Size, Scope and Exemplary Effects. Seoul.

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3. Details
 
The Ministry of Commerce, even though it held no formal authority over public education, prompted the Kumoh project which led to the organization of a pan-governmental support system allowing each involved ministry or department to play its role.


The Economic Planning Board, for instance, handled the capital investments required for land purchase, facility construction, and school administration; the Ministry of Culture and Education oversaw management of teaching staff; and the Ministry of Defense provided scholarships, and room and board, and even gave preferential treatment for enrolled students and graduates.


Japan provided the equipment and learning materials required, and dispatched teachers to the school during its early years.


Kumoh Technical High School, located in the Gumi Industrial Complex, occupied a 194,227 square meter site with a building 28,809 square meters in total floor area. The school was revolutionary and modern, accepting only 360 students at once. Its facilities included 40 classrooms, laboratories, and offices making up the main unit, as well as a training center, dormitories for students and teaching staff, a gymnasium-cum-auditorium, a cafeteria, and other amenities.


While the Korean government funded a number of major items, including land purchase and facility construction, Japan provided grant-type technical assistance for the purchase of all necessary equipment and materials as well as for curriculum development. The training equipment, machinery, and materials provided by Japan from January 1971 to February 1974 amounted to JPY 1.087 billion, or USD 3.651 million in value. The first admissions ceremony, held in March 1973, welcomed 360 students in total, specializing in the five fields of machine-working, metal plate welding, metalwork, casting and woodwork, and electricity.[1]


Japan dispatched eight teachers to the school upon its opening; they returned home three years later in May 1976. Japan also invited members of the Korean teaching staff to Japan for half-year training, but few records exist on this exchange today.
 
<Details of Aid from Japan>

Type Duration Value Description
Donations of equipment, machinery, and materials 1971 to 1974 JPY 1.098 billion
(USD 3.651 million)
Equipment and machinery for testing and training
Dispatch of teachers 1973 to 1976 Eight persons Instruction on casting, welding, machinery, thermal treatment, forging, woodwork, etc.
Korean teachers’ training in Japan N/A N/A  

Source: Oh Woncheol, Korean-Style Economic Development 7: I Don’t Mean to Wage War, KIEP, October 1999.
 
Kumoh Technical High School differed significantly from other vocational schools in Korea at the time in terms of curriculum, teaching staff recruitment, and admission and student management procedures. The practice-centered curriculum mixed general subjects and specialized subjects in a ratio of 40 to 60. Theory and practice made up each specialized subject in a ratio of 30 to 70, to ensure that students gained ample practice and practical knowledge.


The school, furthermore, recruited qualified and competent teachers by providing them with economic incentives. The so-called “Kumoh benefit” often amounted to 100 percent of the regular monthly salary, allowing Kumoh teachers to earn almost twice as much as their counterparts in general high schools. Most of the teachers, moreover, took the opportunity to go abroad to Japan for additional training.


As for the students, only those who graduated from middle schools in the top 10 percent of their classes and were recommended by their middle school principals could enter Kumoh. These students were required to live in the student residence throughout their education, paying no tuition or residence fees. Aside from allowing students to select optional courses, Kumoh also introduced the Reserve Non-commissioned Officers Training Corps (RNTC), which required all graduates to work in the Korean military for fixed periods of time as non-commissioned officers. All students, upon entry, were required to spend their first year on acquiring general education and knowledge without choosing their specialties. They were allowed to choose their specialties in their second year.


The students’ tuitions and living expenses were paid for by the National Treasury. In return, the students were obligated to work as technical non-commissioned officers in the military for three years upon their graduation. The funding for students came from the Ministry of Defense’s budget.
 
 
4. Evaluation and Implications
 
The Kumoh Technical High School project is noteworthy as an initiative led by an aid recipient and organized with quite a flexible structure of aid and coordination without much regard for the established institutions and processes for development projects in Korea at the time.
The Korean Ministry of Commerce and Industry successfully created an advanced and original model of vocational training that was unimaginable in the existing frame of specialized occupational training. In doing so, the ministry took quite a daring, unprecedented step. Its initiatives, however, also attested to the urgency of Korea’s need for skilled technical workforces as it began to pursue industrialization and national development.


The Kumoh project is a good example of an open, active, and recipient-led development project that was relatively free of the trap of existing institutions and formalities. The project also merits some praise for the relatively wise solution it introduced for the post-graduation careers of its graduates. By compelling its graduates to serve mandatorily in the military, with the knowledge and training they had acquired at Kumoh, the project not only gave these graduates opportunities to hone and improve their skills, but also helped to enhance the technological expertise of the Korean military. In other words, the project established a working partnership between industrial development and national security, thus maximizing the return on investment.[2]


The project, launched on a trial basis at first, achieved remarkable success and went on to exert a far-reaching and enduring influence on the education and development of skilled industrial and technical workforces in Korea in the subsequent decades. The young workforce produced by the Kumoh system not only played pivotal roles in Korea’s industrialization, but also helped transform Korean society’s perception of technical and vocational education in general. These students won countless awards and honors at national and international competitions, thus proving the effectiveness of the Kumoh curriculum and shifting people’s perceptions of technical work.


The Kumoh project also left a binding precedent in terms of admission processes, educational and training facilities, teaching staff management, and graduate and alumni management and support. This unprecedented model of technical education ultimately led to the birth of countless similar schools across Korea in the following decades.


However, criticisms began to arise in the late 1980s, as the school failed to invest in and reinvigorate its facilities that were fast going out of date. A more serious problem, however, was that the school neither eliminated the excessive worship of non-technical education and the desire to attend prestigious universities nor did it stem the deepening tendency of high school students to avoid sciences and technology. The decline of national attention to and support for specialized and technical training began to affect the whole community of science and technology, and hit Kumoh especially hard.


Kumoh began to sink into oblivion in the late 1980s, as the nationwide fever for technical education began to subside and the school began to find it increasingly difficult to attract both financial investment and students. The changing social conditions forced Kumoh to pursue radical and innovative changes.


Fortunately, Kumoh made the transition from private to public school in the mid-1990s at which time it was injected with new investments and set out to institute a new, open and autonomous management culture. Nevertheless, the fundamental social and economic conditions that forced the school into decline in the late 1980s continue to characterize Korean society today. However, the school may still reap reward by returning to its initial commitment to practical and useful industrial education, which was so vital for human resource development and industrialization in Korea.[3]

 
[1] The machine-working department included 120 students, including 20 for racking, 20 for machine assembly, 30 for milling, 30 for polishing, and 20 for precise measurement. The metal plate welding department had 30 students for metal plating and another 30 for welding in two classes. The casting and woodwork department had 20 students for casting and 10 for woodwork in two classes. The metalwork department had one class of 30 students. The electricity department had three classes, including one of 60 for electric machinery, another of 30 for communications equipment, and another of 30 for control and calibration.
[2] The RNTC system remained in place for 22 years, from March 1971 to March 1993. The program produced over 7,000 technical sergeants in total. Kumoh had produced 11,431 graduates in total as of February 2003.
[3] Since becoming a public school in March 1993, Kumoh launched a series of expansive projects, investing KRW 10.7 billion in building new facilities and another KRW 13.9 billion in introducing new equipment between 2001 and 2008. The school is transforming itself into a center of education and knowledge for the information-based society of today.


Source: Korea International Cooperation Agency. 2004. Study on Development Aid and Cooperation for South Korea: Size, Scope and Exemplary Effects. Seoul.