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Development Overview

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Overview of Korea’s development experience

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Development Overview
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Social Infrastructure

Start of educational revolution

Start of Educational Revolution
 
Early in Korea’s development, a considerable amount of US aid went into education; a great deal was invested to expand access to primary education by repairing and building education facilities and vocational schools, and by providing technical assistance for educating and training new teachers. US aid was also used in civic schools for older students that no longer qualified for compulsory education. Indeed, civic schools for adults that taught basic reading, writing and math, were critical in sharply reducing the illiteracy rate among adults within a very short amount of time. In 1945, an estimated 78% of Koreans were illiterate, meaning they could not read or write in Hanguel or in any other language. Before 1945, education at any level was limited to the very few ruling elite. Even during Japanese colonization, education was largely restricted to a few, and the few that did go to school, received a Japanese education.
 
By the 1960s, major progress had been made in providing access to primary and middle school education in Korea. Between 1952 and 1967, nearly 20,000 classrooms were built and 3,000 more repaired, material and technical assistance helped to improve vocational education, SNU Colleges of Agriculture, Engineering, and Medicine, were rebuilt and equipped, and assistance was provided to improve textbooks, science education, early childhood education, and the libraries. Indeed, the Ministry of Education claimed achieving a literacy rate of nearly 90% in 1968 for people over the age of 6 years.25 Based on the rapid growth in the number of institutions, teachers and students, the results of the heavy investments in education supported by foreign aid were undeniable from 1945 to 1965, as seen below.
 
[Table 1-1] Expansion of Korean Education during 1945 to 1965
 
 

  Number of Institutions Number of Teachers Number of Students
  1945 1965 1945 1965 1945 1965
Primary Level 2,834 5,265 19,729 79,613 1,366,024 4,955,104
Secondary Level 165 2,432 3,219 36,864 84,572 1,258,088
Higher Level 19 162 1,490 6,801 7,819 141,636
Source: US Department of State, “The Development of Education for the New Korea” in Dodge (1971) “US Assistance to Korean Education, a History of a Decade of US Foreign Aid.”
 
Quite possibly more important, and controversial, than the quantitative expansion were the efforts to build an education system modeled on western-democratic ideals, values, and practices, much of it a reaction to the perceived threat of communism which had infiltrated the North. As McGinn et al. (1980, p86) write, the US was “determined to use education in Korea as a major vehicle for the democratization of society.” Indeed, the US Military Government was active in promoting civic schools for literacy and basic education on values and beliefs of western democratic institutions, “the American Way of Life.” As such, the civic schools were focused on the adult populations. By 1948, nearly 15,400 civic schools were established and more than 1 million adults were enrolled.
 
In step with the US policy initiative on civic schools, the Education Act was passed by the newly established Korean government in December 1949, which gave civic schools legal statutory basis and outlined the activities and objectives of the civic schools. Article 140 of the Education Act made civic schools compulsory for adults who were born after 1910 and had not attained the primary education. The Act also specified that students of civic schools were required to complete a minimum of 200 hours of classes over 70 days. These classes were held during the off-seasons  
so that farmers could attend. The curriculum for civic schools not only taught basic readings but also basic math, and science and social studies. Essentially, the Korean government implemented the same policy on adult education through the civic schools as US military government. In implementing the policy for adult education, the Ministry of Education put emphasis on promoting “education for Koreans by Koreans” by training Korean teachers to teach Korean adults.

From the summer of 1946, the government-led adult education started to extensively eradicate illiteracy as well as foster people to become the citizens of a democratic nation (Lee, Hee-Su, 1996). The Adult Education Bureau took charge of training leaders who would go to cities and countries to teach illiterate people and each leader had to go to different cities and countries and train local leaders who would teach in neighborhoods and villages.
 
[Table 1-2] Status of Local Instructors (1947)
 
 
Province
 
Instructors in Gu, Eup, Myun Instructors in Ri, Dong Total
No. of workshops No. of participants No. of workshops No. of participants No. of workshops No. of participants
Kyunggi Do 95 2,568 147 5,307 242 7,875
Kangwon Do 35 887 132 2,927 167 3,814
Chungchong Buk Do 26 649 30 1,502 56 2,151
Chungchong Nam Do 50 254 418 5,318 468 5.572
Cholla Nam Do 25 430 230 6,616 255 7,046
Jeju do - - 20 423 20 423
Total 231 4,778 977 22,093 1,208 22,881
Source: Hee-Su Lee (1996)
 
Separately, Koreans that came down from the North after 1945 were educated to instill the Western values and principles. Furthermore, factory workers in the age of 13 to 16 also were educated in programs offered at the factories. The US also pushed the policy of decentralizing education and devolving power to the local level. But these were largely considered to have failed on the part of the US.
 
Since military service has been a requirement for all able bodied Korean males, the effects of military training and education played an important role in improving Korea’s overall literacy rate. Korea had received significant amount of military assistance from the US to ensure peace and security on the Korean peninsula and the Northeast Asia after Korean War. Military servicemen were required to be taught basic education in reading and writing as well as math during the basic military training. The military trainees were required to complete 44 hours of education per week for 6 weeks. This included 220 hours of reading and writing and 44 hours of math. A total of nearly 600 thousand servicemen received basic education since the establishment of Korean military in 1952 to 1970.26 Under the program, student adults were required to take a total of 50 hours of classes including 30 hours in reading, 10 hours in math, and 10 hours in new government’ national objective. Between 1961 and 1963, a total of 1 million adjusts completed the educational program.
 
[Table 1-3] Total Number of Military Servicemen Educated in Basic Reading and Writing
 
 
Year Total Number Year Total Number
1952 148,553 1962 16,764
1953 208,023 1963 8,432
1954 76,012 1964 2,343
1955 34,976 1965 6,155
1956 23,511 1966 4,529
1957 15,477 1967 4,721
1958 10,444 1968 7,785
1959 6,447 1969 7,986
1960 14,224 1970 531
1961 12,677 Total 587,298
Source: Byun, Jong-Im (2011)
 
The quantitative impact of US assistance in education in Korea can be summed up as follows. Korea’s illiteracy rate among the adult population fell sharply within the very short amount of time. From 1945 to 1948, the illiteracy rate fell from 78% to 42%, and fell sharply again from 1948 to 1959, before following below 10% in 1990s.27
 
By 1948, 2.3 million children were enrolled in elementary school, more than 100,000 in secondary schools, and almost 90,000 in technical/industrial schools (McGinn, Snodgrass, Kim, Kim, and Kim, 1980). The rapid improvement in the literacy rate and education outcomes can be attributed to assistance efforts both in formal and informal education.

[Figure 1-4] Illiteracy Rate of Korean Adults
Illiteracy Rate of Korean Adults

 
 
25 The standard of literacy was measured by the ability to identify and write the 24 letters of the Hangul alphabet.
 
26 After the Military Coup in 1961, the educational training for the adults in basic education continued under the National Reconstruction Movement
 
27 The Korean national illiteracy rate was 77.7% in 1930, where the illiteracy rate for women was 92.0% and 63.9% for men

 

Source: Kim, Jun-Kyung and Kim, KS. 2012. Impact of foreign aid on Korea's development. Seoul: KDI School of Public Policy and Management.