Dameisha Forum/Forum Opinions/The Switch from “Education for Development” to “Education for Happiness”

The Switch from “Education for Development” to “Education for Happiness”

Author: Source: Date:2017-09-01
Editor’s notes: With its roots in a philosophy that values grades rather than the individual talents and creativity, the current education system in South Korea, though producing the largest number of university graduates proportionally, has certain drawbacks. Mr. Moon provided a thorough evaluation of the Korean education system and redefined how happiness can be realized in a healthy education system.

Education in South Korea and the Pattern of “Education for Development”
In South Korea, the basic education system, known as the 6-3-3-4 education system, in which students spend six years in primary school, three years in junior high school, three years in senior high school and four years in university has been running since its introduction in 1948.The system is fundamentally a Western European-style school system adopted by many countries around the world, including the United States, as a national education framework. In these countries, this education system manifests in accordance with different philosophies and values, consequently leading to different educational outcomes.

Over the past 70 years, South Korea has been a typical example in developing education system based on the philosophy of “education for development”. Since the emphasis of “education for development” is laid on educating and producing more outstanding talents who are able to contribute to the nation’s development, the 6-3-3-4 system of education has played a screening role in distinguishing excellent students from others, and accordingly schools producing more outstanding students are rated as “schools of premium-quality”. The philosophy behind “education for development” is demonstrated in arguments such as “education should contribute to a country’s development” or “the uppermost goal is to cultivate well-educated students.”

Based on the pattern of “education for development”, government support naturally focuses on the education that contributes to the development of national economy. Schools paid most of their attention to students with good academic performance. Unsurprisingly, parents wish their children to become students that the nation and schools prefer. Studying thus becomes the one and only way to success. As a result, students fully occupy themselves in the process of improving educational background. In the context of the “education for development” system, because the distribution of national or social resources is concentrated on well-educated and outstanding students, these students devote even more energy into studying the subjects (English, Korean, Mathematics, Science etc.) taught at school, so as to outperform other students and improve their competitiveness. The“education for development”system involves students, parents, schools and teachers, and even local autonomous organizations in a grade competition. For the past seven decades, based on such an education pattern, South Korea has invested plentiful recourses into education activities and made itself a typical example of “education for development”.

The philosophy of “education for development” has benefited Korean education in many aspects; in the meantime it has also resulted in some side effects.

Achievements and Side Effects of “Education for Development”
A. Achievements
First of all, as almost everyone has been actively engaged in the competition over academic degree, South Koreans’ average education level is quite high. In the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, South Korean students have been consistently ranked among top 3 in all assessment categories, including mathematics, science and reading. In the International Olympiads Competition, Korean students have constantly entered top ranks. Even Barrack Obama, President of the U.S., publicly lauded the South Korean education, calling on the education sector to learn from it. Obama’s compliments on Korean education can be summarized as “the United States spends 2 to 3 times more per student than South Korea does in terms of education investment. South Korea ranks among top 3; While the U.S. cannot even get into top 10.What a startling contrast!” Undoubtedly, South Korean students have a very firm knowledge base, proved from the fact that it has remained among top 3 in a variety of categories of the OECD Student Assessment over the past 10 years.

Second, since Koreans have attached so much importance to academic background, the enrollment rate in South Korea is also staggeringly high. The percentage of primary and junior high school students entering next level of education is almost 100%, and nearly 80% of high school graduates are admitted into university. The enrollment rate of kindergarten for children aged 3 to 6 surpasses 70%. The illiteracy rate among the population under the age of 50 is almost zero, the lowest illiteracy rate worldwide according to statistics published by UNESCO.

Third, the yearning for higher academic degree in South Korea, called “education zeal”, contributes to the country’s record of the highest percentage of university graduates (especially of the four-year curriculum) out of the total population around the world. Moreover, the proportion of Korean students studying in western developed countries such as the US and the UK has reached the highest level. According to the statistics on the composition of international students in the United States, the proportion of Korean students is only preceded by that of Chinese and Indian students. Given thought to its population size (around 50 million), it is quite jaw-dropping and impressive that the number of Korean students studying abroad is on a par with that of the two most populous countries! What’s more, most of Korean students studying abroad do not receive state scholarships; instead they are self-funded, mainly supported by their families. Against the backdrop of such an educational zeal, South Korea’s highly educated population (Bachelor, Master and Doctor’s degree holders) constitutes a large proportion of the total population. Naturally, such a large group of highly educated individuals forms a potential talent pool that advances national development.

Fourth, South Korea is referred to as a typical positive example of promoting national economic development through education. World Bank and IBRD often introduce South Korea’s development pattern to developing countries, the key content of which is to “cultivate highly educated talents through education and make them play a dominant role in the national development”. World Bank and IBRD advise developing countries to learn from the successful experience of Korean education. In fact the two international organizations are supporting these countries to carry out projects of “drawing on the experience of South Korean Education”. At the request of World Bank, IBRD and UN, Korean Educational Development Institute (KEDI), an institution responsible for education and research in South Korea, has set up an ad hoc training unit to receive delegations from these countries, and launched education and training campaigns.

B. Side Effects
Despite considerable achievements from the education zeal featured by the competition over academic records, side effects that come along cannot be underestimated. First of all, since students are excessively obsessed with academic performance, grade competition in school has become a common phenomenon. As a consequence of the rival relationship among students, their mutual cooperation, love, respect and friendship are weakened, giving way to jealousy, hatred, antipathy and attacks. Moreover, the competition directly leads to the differentiation of students, students with a good academic performance being clearly distinguished from students with a poor one. And coteries are formed spontaneously among students according to the pressure borne by the students and their families’ socio-economic status. Tension, mutual repulsion, and worse still, fights, are created among different student coteries. School violence and isolation (on a collective base) have become very common on South Korean campus, mainly attributed to excessive academic pressure.

Second, this competitive atmosphere directly undermines the philosophy of all-round quality-oriented education. Major knowledge-based subjects (such as Korean, English, Science and Social Sciences, etc.) have been attached much importance to; at the same time subjects such as Morality, P.E., Music, and Arts have been overlooked. As a result, it is rather difficult to achieve the educational goal of all-round development of students in morality, intelligence, physique and aesthetic. In particular, since the College Entrance Examination is designed to check students’ performance in major subjects (Native Language, English, Mathematics, Science and Social Sciences), students, parents and teachers pay little attention to the subjects not included within the scope of examination. So schools increasingly resemble training institutions on Korean, English and Mathematics, rather than places for students to receive comprehensive quality-oriented education.

Third, with the intensified competition among students over academic performance, a variety of private after-school tuition or training institutions have embraced booming development. In other words, due to dissatisfaction with school learning, students want to learn the subjects related to university admission through after-class tutoring. That is, after studying 5-6 hours at school, they spend another 5-6 hours attending training institutions or private tutorials. Such kind of expenses is the so-called extracurricular training cost, which is not the tuition fee paid to the schools, but the fee paid to training institutions or private tutors. The size of this extracurricular training cost can be as large as 20 trillion Korean Won per year, nearly one third of the annual educational budget (60 trillion Won) that the South Korean Ministry of Education invests in national public education. Each family has to spend one sixth to one fifth of its family’s monthly income on after-class tuitions. The public is heavily burdened with extracurricular training cost, which also leads to national dissatisfaction with the government. People think that it is the unreasonable education policy that compels them to pay for after-class tutoring out of their own pockets. This has become the most complained topic among various social issues.

Governmentally, more than 20 trillion Korean Won out of the invested fund has been used to create a black market, posing obstacles to normal economic operations. As a result, it has become a thorny problem haunting the government. Over the past 70 years, the South Korean government has spared no effort in cutting such extracurricular training cost. It, however, ends up almost in vain. Without abandoning the policy of “education for development” and the cultural ambience prone to competition over academic records, the public’s demands for extracurricular training can hardly be curtailed.

Fourth, such campus culture of competition over academic records prevents students from discovering various interests, developing their potential abilities, and achieving diverse development. In a school ambience that only students with good academic performances can receive favor, ordinary students in pursuit of unique individual quality, specialty and dream are generally neglected or even deemed as eccentric, making it difficult for them to fully develop their potential and feel happy at school. Creative students are in the same situation as well. In the competition over academic performance, students can only succeed by repeated practice and training. Therefore, those creative students are generally overlooked. Led by the philosophy of “education for development” that inevitably leads to the competition over academic performance, creative quality, interest, potentials and a variety of individual traits can hardly be discovered or nurtured in students. For many students who do not have outstanding academic performance, school education becomes so dull and boring that schools have become a testing ground for endurance limits to them. The majority of students do not feel happiness in such kind of environment. South Korea may have made gratifying achievements in OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, but its students’ happiness or life satisfaction is at the lowest level. Despite that students’ creative and problem solving abilities are not at the lowest level, they are still very low considering students’ education level. When students do not feel happy and are unable to develop their unique strength at school, such education can be deemed to fail with half chance.

Countermeasure to “Education for Development”: “Education for Happiness”
At present, it has been very clear that “education for development” has insurmountable limitations in terms of its philosophy and policy. In light of the current situation in South Korea, the highly grade-oriented education can hardly meet the requirement of “tapping creativity”, let alone keeping up with the theme of the 21st century, i.e.“creating schools that allow students to experience and exercise a happy life”. Given these issues of the time, there has been a theory of “kicking over the pattern of education for development” since the beginning of the 2000s. The Korean Government began to implement a “creativity and humanity-oriented education” that attaches great importance to creativity and humanity. It was not until 2012 when Park Geun-hye initiated her presidential election campaign that the policy ideas of “free semester system”, “experiential learning” and “education for happiness” emerged in South Korea and the government began to launch concrete implementation plans gradually.

Since 2012, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has been striving to transform the existing campus culture and conventions into ones that fit the philosophy “education for happiness”, and has formulated the policy goal of “education for happiness”. The Ministry of Education and Department of Education in various cities of South Korea have also begun to respond proactively to this trend of the times, and people have become aware of the change in the education policy.

Despite numerous difficulties in the implementation of the new policy, it is gratifying to see that South Korea has begun to break away from the old philosophy and convention of “education for development”, and made a wide stride towards the education for happiness.

The definition of “Education for Happiness” and “Ability of Happiness”
A. The Meaning of Happiness
When it comes to so-called good education, admittedly the process is important, the result,however,is just equally important. Obviously the ultimate goal of education is to make human gain happiness, and the mission of education is to make human happy. In South Korea, since the initiation of modern education in 1948, all national policies including educational policy need to give priority to “straightforward economic development.” But in order to make future generations truly feel happy, we must improve education system and change such policy now. This, of course, does not mean abandoning economic development or growth, nor embracing equal distributions. Just as economic development does not necessarily make people feel happy, equal distributions cannot ensure it either.

Recently, research findings on “Positive Psychology”, which specifically studies the topic of happiness, have shown that material condition is only the minimum requirement to induce happiness, rather than a major factor. Happiness, being a complicated concept, cannot be achieved simply through improvements in material or distributional conditions.

EdDiener, representative of the American academia of Positive Psychology, made a definition of happiness. According to him, “when one is satisfied with his own life, often feels happy, and does not have many unpleasant feelings such as sorrow or anger; his happiness index can be deemed as quite high. On the contrary, when a person can hardly feel happiness or love, and is dissatisfied with life, his happiness index can be considered to be relatively low. Through Ed Diener’s definition of happiness, it is not difficult to understand that happiness is not about external conditions, but subjective feelings of “well-being”.

Whether one is rich or poor, divorced or not, healthy or unhealthy, ugly or good-looking—all these are not what determines his happiness. The key element that determines his happiness is how he subjectively feels about these objective conditions. A poor or divorced person can feel happy, and an ugly person may well have happiness. On the other hand, a rich, healthy or good-looking person may not necessarily feel happy. Therefore, we shoulddiscard the stereotype that institutional conditions such as economic growth, better national welfare system and equal distribution are the sufficient condition to make people feel happy.

The reason behind Koreans’ low level of happiness is their excessive pursuit of material conditions which leads to the scarification of other things such as social relationships and personal psychological stability. Because of the eagerness for success, people spend more energy and effort to succeed, while ignoring the happiness that can be gained through interpersonal relationships, personal interests and so on.

A recent survey shows that primary school students in South Korea consider the best job to be “one that makes one wealthy”, posing a shock to many people. Children at such young ages have set their life goal on material conditions. In fact this is the very drawback of an education pattern that encourages persistent pursuit of “a successful life”.

B. Education that Cultivates “Happiness Ability”
In order to make citizens feel happy, the state needs to give people care through policies at two different levels. First, to improve the economic and welfare conditions, it is necessary to promote a stable “happiness system” (sustainable development, fair opportunities and distributions, extended insurance and welfare facilities, etc.). Second, by developing people’s “happiness ability”, everyone can play its role in real life and feel their own happiness through self-conscious efforts and steadfastness. In an era of national happiness, “happiness system” and “happiness ability” have become indivisible policy partners.

Among them, the promotion of “happiness ability” has become a major task for government officials who are in charge of the policies for kindergartens, primary schools, junior and senior high schools, and universities. What exactly does “happiness ability” mean? How to forge such ability and make it grow steadily? More specifically, to carry out the education of wellbeing, schools at all levels have to make in-depth thinking about what they are going to do, for the era of happiness-based evaluation of education outcomes lies just ahead.

One of the main characteristics of a happy person is the ability to feel the happiness. Psychologist Shelley Taylor once conducted a melancholia survey on patients with breast cancer. At the outset, she predicted that the majority of the patients would be suffering from distress caused by melancholia. In fact, however, some of the patients turned to be hopeful about their future and love life even more than before, showing a stronger will.

Based on these findings, Shelley came to the conclusion that people differ in their psychological abilities to overcome misfortunes. In other words, there is a difference in their “happiness ability”. No matter in what kind of situation, changes in mentality can take place in accordance with individual aptitude and attitude towards life. Or say, Shelley discovered the existence of the ability to turn misfortune into happiness. This is so-called individual differences in “happiness ability”.

In the process of carrying out scientific research on the traits of happy people, positive psychologists have explored main factors that make people generate the sense of happiness. Scholars have found through research that even under same conditions, individuals will have a different level of happiness. In other words, even under the same environment, some people feel happy and others do not. Scholars explained this phenomenon by individual differences in “happiness ability”.

Positive psychologists have listed five major factors that determine happiness (M. Seligman, 2011): positive emotions, flow, positive human relations, self-realization, and positive meaning. These factors are reflected differently on each individual, resulting in the difference in the level of happiness. In other words, the key difference between happy and unhappy people lies in their ability to feel happiness.

To sum up, government needsto cultivate the national “happiness ability” among the public. In particular, our educators need to devote more efforts in fostering students “happiness ability” in the long course of kindergarten, primary school, junior and senior high school, and university education. After all, only happy people can build a happy nation. Although economic development can bring happiness to people; above all, we must be aware that the 21st century is an era when national happiness is a crucial element of national development.

Yong-lin Moon is the former minister of the Ministry of Education in South Korea.

Speech delivered at the Education Reform Forum of the 3rd Dameisha Forum. Opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the position of SZIDI.