Sustaining Korea’s world-class system fit for the 21st century
Korea’s remarkable investment in education has been at the heart of its remarkable economic transformation over the past 60 years.
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What's the issue?
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Between 1970 and 2000, Korea transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world to an economic powerhouse. During this period, the country oversaw a rapid expansion in the provision of education, with stunning results: the mean number of years of schooling almost doubled, from 5.4 in 1970 to 10.6 by 2000, while the illiteracy rate plunged from 13% in 1970 to 2% by 1999. Behind Korea’s single-minded focus on education was its recognition of the need to invest in its most valuable resource: its people.
Korea’s accession to the OECD in 1996 marked a major milestone. Aware that the future would be more global, more digital, and more knowledge-driven, Korea and the OECD have since partnered to explore and address the education demands of a new era. Having already acceded to the OECD’s Indicators of Education Systems Working Party in 1994, Korea took part in the first round of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2000, which saw Korea’s education system emerge as one of the world’s top-performing, in terms of both quality and equity.
PISA also identified areas for improvement, including the need to provide a better start for the nation’s youngest, emerging equity challenges and student well-being. Other areas of focus included the need to adapt teaching for the 21st century, mismatches in skills, an ageing population and declining labour productivity.
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How are we addressing it?
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Over the past 25 years, Korea and the OECD have worked in partnership to strengthen education systems to meet the needs of the 21st century. Korea’s forward-looking approach – and the active engagement of bodies like the Korean Education Development Institute (KEDI) – has made it an important partner for the OECD. More recently, Korea has played a leading role in advancing work on smart data and new technology in education, on fostering and assessing 21st century skills in higher education, and on establishing common educational goals, methods, and policy solutions to accelerate digitalisation in the years to come.
In turn, the OECD has continued to support Korea’s domestic education policy reforms, including issues around classroom size, classroom environments, and teacher training. Since then, Korea has drawn on its engagement with the OECD to design new policies for lifelong learning, for early childhood education, for evaluation and assessment, and for teachers, among many other initiatives.
Korea-OECD International Education Conference, 2019
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What’s the impact?
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Korea’s membership of the OECD has allowed it to expand its perspective – and continue to compare and learn from and with other countries. Korea has also greatly enriched the work of the OECD, sharing its policy experiences and achievements, and showing what can be achieved in a short period of time with dedicated effort.
The COVID-19 crisis has had a profound impact on education systems. The OECD continues to work with Members both to continue advancing our long-term initiatives and to tackle new challenges that have emerged in the wake of the pandemic – with Korea an important partner in this work. Korea’s proactive approach has generated new policy insights relevant for all Members – for instance through its “Top 10 Initiatives for Transition to Future Education in the Post-COVID-19 Era”; through discussion in its Future Education Committee, the Policy Advisory for Distance Education; and the Dialogue for Great Transition to Post-COVID-19 Education. This roadmap outlines initiatives to revise the country’s school curriculum and reform its teacher management system, as well as plans to reconfigure vocational education and training (VET) provision and to implement a better digital transition.
Korea has participated actively in global fora, recognising that the road ahead may be challenging and uncertain – and may therefore benefit from global co-operation and the exchange of good practice. Co-chairing the OECD Ministerial Meeting of Education in 2022, Korea’s engagement plays a pivotal role in generating evidence and good practice, enabling all countries to address the many challenges ahead, including digital transformation, ageing societies, climate change and slowing productivity. It also helps to ensure that countries meet the new education needs of the 21st century.