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Healing a Wary, Self-cultivating Society through Education

cover image
  • Author Hisam Kim
  • Date 2018/08/02
  • Series No. KDI FOCUS No. 91, eng.
  • Language English
SUMMARY □ Can education improve Korea’s self-cultivating society which has left its people untrusting of others? Reforming public education, particularly eliminating rote-based learning and encouraging horizontal and participatory classes, will enhance peer relationships, trust and cooperation to ultimately contribute to reversing the decline in social capital.

- The significance of social capital, which is formed of interpersonal relationships and interaction, is recognized throughout society.

- Amid the growing popularity of the “each to his own” mentality, Korea is experiencing a continuous decline in mutual trust.

- The low degree of happiness in Koreans is due to the lack of social capital.

- In Northern European countries that apply horizontal collaborative methods, people with higher education show stronger social trust. But, this is not the case for Korea and East European countries wherein one-sided lectures are more dominant.

- How children are taught is more signifiant to the cultivation of social capital than what is taught. What is critical to fostering social capital is how to teach, not what to teach.

- A high proportion (81%) of Korean respondents described high school as a ‘battlefield.’

- Korean undergraduates have low public trust and prefer self-help methods to collective solutions.

- Korea has the lowest percentage of those who believe that the general public and government officials will meet social norms.

- Korea shows low willingness to make donations and has weak solidarity.

- About 73% of Korean respondents preferred a secluded residential environment for privacy protection over communication and interaction.

- Korean undergraduates believe that as the level of education increases, the level of cooperative sprit decreases.

- Social capital increased further among students who were more frequently exposed to PBL activities.

- Students who received a horizontal-type education showed more increases in their network of friends and better perceptions about social capital at the end of the semester.

- Peer relationships fostered in the course of horizontal interactions were found to improve perceptions and attitudes about social capital.

- Having experienced random grouping in class, students became more receptive to cooperating with others who are unfamiliar.

- Horizontal interaction could be enhanced by adopting constructivism through, for example, PBL and flipped classroom programs.

- It is necessary to extend evaluation systems to an appropriate degree, such as team-based, absolute, student participatory and processfocused formats.

- An innovative education environment such as bottomup changes in classes should be developed and HR systems for faculty need to be redesigned to go hand in hand with educational innovation.

- Transforming teaching methods to be more horizontal and participatory is an important agenda that will contribute to not only enhancing social capital but also to fostering those with skills needed in the future.
KDI VOD Report
Can most people be trusted?

Social capital is an intangible asset that is formed through relationships between people and includes trust, networks and norms.

It is essential to economic growth and structural reform as well as to the happiness of individuals and local communities.

According to an international survey,
Korea’s social capital, which was measured by the trust in others, has dropped far below that of advanced countries.

As a result, competition has taken over cooperation and a
‘each to his own“ mentality now dominates Korean society.

In fact, a survey conducted on the university students of four countries in 2017 found that 81% of Korean respondents thought high school was a ‘battlefield.“

Social trust increases in line with the amount of education received.
But, while this is very true for countries in Northern Europe,
it does not apply to those in the Eastern part of the continent and Korea.

Then, what is the cause for the imbalance?

Past studies found that the formation of social capital is more contingent on teaching methods than on education level.

This is proven by the high levels of social capital in Northen Europe
where horizontal teaching methods are actively practiced and
the low levels in Eastern Europe and Korea where vertical teaching
methods prevail.

Then, can Korea really increase its social capital by changing its teaching methods?

In order to find out, an educational experiment was conducted on
the students of Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology for one

Three classes were taught via vertical methods centered around lectures and three via horizontal methods that adopted team-based discussions and projects. The changes in the students’ network of friends and perceptions of social capital were then tracked.

The results revealed that students who were taught by horizontal methods had wider and tighter networks of friends.

Also, horizontal classes helped to ease any imbalances within the students’ networks so that friendships were not overly dependent on a few specific students.

Horizontal classes made bigger improvements in the students’ perceptions about social capital, including trust, fairness and compliance.

And, the more team discussions and projects were undertaken, the more inclusive the classes became.

How were these improvements possible when the subjects did not deal with social capital?

Horizontal teaching methods encourage interaction and collaboration which, in turn, expands students’ networks and enhances their perceptions about social capital.

[Interview with the author]
Schools provide a venue for proper social relationships to be formed. They are also a place to cultivate social capital which includes trust and teamwork and public and law-abiding spirit. However, due to a fiercely competitive environment, we are taught how to keep others at bay and self-cultivate rather than to respect them and work together.
The level of social capital that is fostered through education in Korea is low. As such, teaching methods need to be reformed. Transforming classes to be horizontal and participatory will not only boost Korea’s social capital but also foster “cooperative geeks” who will be much needed during the fourth industrial revolution.
We live in an era where lectures by renowned lecturers and professors are readily available via the Internet. However, if schools continue to provide students with one-sided, lecture-oriented education, answers will be needed as to why children are forced into schools in the first place.
In order to be successful at innovative education, we should reform evaluation systems and create an environment that enables teachers to concentrate on their classes. Also, a social consensus must be formed to enable educators at all stages to lead the innovation in education.
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