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Comprehensive one-stop references on key development issues of Korea

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Analysis on Development and Achievement of Compulsory Elementary Education after the Korean War

Sub-Theme 1 | Establishing Framework of Compulsory Elementary Educaton


One of the most important and urgent educational policies after the establishment of the Korean government was the implementation of compulsory elementary education stipulated in the Constitution and Education Act. Although the Korean government intended to implement a 6-year compulsory education system stated in the supplementary provision of Article 16 of the Constitution starting June 1, 1950, the measure was foiled due to the outbreak of the Korean War, which erupted only 24 days later that day. With the launch of the educational autonomy system in June 1952, however, the Korean government resumed its plan to enforce compulsory education. Since then, the Ministry of Education established a 6-year Plan for Compulsory Elementary Education and actively promoted the measure with an aim to achieve 100 percent student enrollment of school-age children.
 
However, there had been many trials and errors in the process of legalization and implementation of compulsory elementary education system which aims at 100 percent enrollment and free education. In fact, the enrollment rate of elementary school students significantly dropped during the Korean War, compared to the time of the government establishment. Given that, the date of June 1950 was just the starting point of implementing compulsory education system for form's sake. In other words, the elementary school enrollment rate stood at 74.8% at the time of establishing the Korean government but it reduced to 69.8% in 1951 when the war was in full swing. In this respect, it can be said that compulsory education in Korea was finally back on track in the post-Korean War restructuring period after the war ended in 1954.

The 6-year Compulsory Education Improvement Plan, which was implemented in 1954, was designed to increase the enrollment rate of all school-age children to 96%, build more classrooms and secure educational finance necessary in implementing this plan by 1959. As a result of these efforts, the number of students enrolled according to the implementation of the 6-year Plan far exceeded the expected goal as the number of student enrolled significantly increased from 2,678,978 to 3,558,142 in 1959, outperforming a 0.4% increase from the previous goal of 96%.

 
[Changes in School age Children by Year (1954-1959]

 
Year Number of school-age children Number of enrolled children Ratio
1954 3,246,364 2,678,978 82.5
1955 3,289,865 2,947,436 89.5
1956 3,333,949 2,997,813 89.9
1957 3,480,225 3,170,891 91.1
1958 3,583,427 3,315,989 92.5
1959 3,799,690 3,558,142 96.4

Source: Ministry of Education, 40 Years of Korean Education, 1988, Quoted from 153 page.


In addition, the government set the goal of increasing the number of elementary schools to 4,614 by 1959, but it failed to achieve the target number with the real number by that time was just 4,574. Therefore, the government had to defer the implementation of Enforcement Decree of the Education Act enacted in April 1952, which stipulates the number of elementary school classrooms should be no more than 6 class per grade and the average number of students per classroom should not exceed 60. This poor situation eventually led to chronic Korean education problems of overcrowded classes and overly-large schools where the number of students exceeds certain criteria.

The 6-year Compulsory Education Improvement Plan can be evaluated as one of the most successful achievement in the education reform in the modern Korean history when viewed from the perspective of achieving the enrollment rate goal. The remarkable increase in the student enrollment rate was the results of the improved public awareness on the importance of education and active pursuit of the compulsory education improvement policy in a quantitative way. However, it also left room for criticism on poor education environment since it failed to expand educational finance to cover the explosive demand for education.

The post-war Korean education could quantitatively expand based on the following reasons .

First, one of the most important reasons is the establishment of a free democratic nation, the Republic of Korea. The adoption of the free democratic system based on individuals' freedom, responsibility, creativity and competition stimulated the people's motivation to facilitate their own development to the maximum level.

Second was the public belief that only education can guarantee survival. As Koreans had endured numerous social ups and downs, including the collapse of the traditional society, Japanese colonial rule and liberation, the outbreak of the Korean War and destruction left by the war, they witnessed the collapse of the people with vested interest and resorted to education-cure-all idea. Korean parents believed and still believe education is necessary for better jobs and better positions in the society. This conventional thinking propelled the social attitude to value academic background and eventually led to the education-centered society.

Third was that Korea after liberation had education leaders who could independently establish and pursue the national educational policy, and the government put priority on education. The personnel involved in the Korean Education Council, the Education Committee and the Education and Management Bureau under the U.S. military government had sufficient experiences and insights over the development of education and the nation. In particular, the 6-year plan for the completion of the compulsory elementary education was a farsighted excellent decision despite the then poor national financial conditions.

Based on the basic education established by the time of the Korean War, today Korean education is approaching toward the universalization of higher education beyond the universalization of elementary and secondary education. Given that its quantitative development has reached full capacity, now it is the time for Korean education to focus on the enhancement of educational quality.