Asia Pacific Education Review

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 285–294

National construction of global education: a critical review of the national curriculum standards for South Korean global high schools


  • Youl-Kwan Sung
    • Graduate School of EducationKyung Hee University
    • Graduate School of EducationKyung Hee University
  • Il-Seon Choi
    • Graduate School of EducationKyung Hee University

DOI: 10.1007/s12564-013-9256-y

Cite this article as:
Sung, Y., Park, M. & Choi, I. Asia Pacific Educ. Rev. (2013) 14: 285. doi:10.1007/s12564-013-9256-y


In this paper, the authors investigate what global visions of education are reflected in the selected national curriculum standards, with special reference to two seemingly contradictory forces: globalization and nationalism. This paper examines the socio-economic and cultural foundations of the curriculum and explains how the national curriculum for South Korean global high schools symbolically appropriates global education for the purpose of national competitiveness. Our findings show that, although the selected curriculum document alludes to the importance of international understanding and of global citizenship education, its primary objective is to provide students with knowledge and skills for national competitiveness and to uphold, rather than weaken, national identity in reaction to global pressures. This phenomenon is closely linked to the historical background of Koreanized globalization, in which the concept of segyehwa has been used as a catalyst for undertaking global education for the ends of global competiveness and national pride.


Global educationNational curriculumGlobalizationEthnic nationalismGlobal high schools


Global education is construed broadly as encompassing an international understanding of education (UNESCO 2006), global citizenship education (Oxfam 2006; Schweisfurth 2006), global multicultural education (Banks 2008; Sleeter and Grant 2003), and various other frameworks that integrate the concepts of both globalization and education. Just as the conceptualization, interpretation, and implementation aspects of global education are differentiated by the social and cultural contexts of each nation, so the national construction of curriculum standards on global education varies among nations. Since classroom practices are regulated by the national curriculum, the way in which the curriculum defines global education is of tremendous importance to educators (Cole 1984; Roman 2003). Knowledge and national curriculum standards are constructed within the overlapping dimensions of globalization and localization, so it is essential for educational researchers to investigate how a nation’s official curriculum is socially and culturally oriented toward globalization (Sharon 2008; Torres 2002).

Globalization is a highly contested concept and a deeply contradictory phenomenon. And yet, it sheds light on many of the characteristics and changes of our lives, “from the complex contours of contemporary capitalism, to the declining power of the nation-state system, the rise of transnational organizations and corporations, the emergence of a global culture challenging local traditions, and the information and communications revolution enabling rapid circulation of ideas, money, and people” (Rizvi 2007: 256). Global education cannot be fully understood without considering its relationship to these changes. However, it remains controversial which perspectives are legitimized, and codified, by the official incarnations of global education. Does globalization promote the feeling that one is “like a citizen of the global community” (Hicks 2003: 275), and empower one to shape global education so as to address issues that cross national borders? Or is global education an instrument of the state as it seeks to survive and thrive in a globalized age?

These questions led the authors to investigate what global visions of education are reflected in the selected national curriculum standards, with special reference to two seemingly contradictory forces: globalization and nationalism. For this, the authors inquire into the perspectives and approaches featured in the national curriculum standards on global education for global high schools (GHSs). The curriculum was endorsed in 2007 by the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development (MEHRD). GHSs are categorized as Special High Schools1(SHSs, of which there were 97 out of a total of 2,253 high schools as of 2011) and are usually perceived as elite schools in South Korea. They are very small in number (6 out of a total of 2,253 high schools as of 2011), but are often at the core of educational debates because they are extremely prestigious, both in terms of students’ academic ability and the social status of their parents (Sung 2005).

This paper sees school knowledge as both a regulative and an instructional discourse (Bernstein 1990). In this study, the object of analysis is a curricular text that regulates instructional discourse. If we assume that language in the text is a form of social practice, then texts and society are mutually constitutive, in that curricular texts are regulated by social contexts and social structure is reproduced and transformed through instructional discourses (Bernstein 1990). Since the interplay between texts and contexts is socio-political, historical, and cultural, it is vital to analyze curricular texts of global education within their particular national contexts. National curricular standards and textbooks are forms of knowledge production. Social knowledge production is recontextualized in the educational field. National curricular texts can thereby mediate the existing macro-social structure and micro-instructional discourses and practices. As social practices, these regulative discourses legitimate and reinforce the current socio-cultural status quo and people’s identities (van Dijk 2008). Considering the social practice of texts enables us to see school knowledge not as neutral, but as related to the cultural foundation of society (Fairclough 2003). Thus, curricular texts as a social practice are the target of our analysis.

This way of conceiving of educational texts raises questions about what knowledge is selected, from among the many aspects of global education, for inclusion in the curriculum and how the curriculum is influenced by the social conditions. By examining how educational discourses in micro-level curricular texts are related to macro-level conditions, this paper (a) examines the socio-economic and cultural foundations underlying the curriculum and (b) investigates the ways in which the contending forces of globalization and nationalism appropriate global education for the national curriculum of GHSs in South Korea.

Theoretical and historical backgrounds

Globalization and its paradoxes

South Korea’s globalization drive was initiated as a state-enhancing, top–down, strategic plan to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions of the world economic system (Kim 2000). Under the name of segyehwa (the Korean term for globalization), President Kim Young Sam’s (KYS) government (1993–1997) attempted a reform of the South Korean political economy in order for South Korea to survive and thrive in this age of increasingly fierce, borderless, global competition. Furthermore, not only was segyehwa appropriated for economic success in global competition, but its policy also stressed the promotion of Korean culture and values (Kim 2000). For instance, globalization, underpinned by “Koreanization,” is listed as one of the five “principal meanings” of segyehwa. As President Kim Young Sam explained:

Koreans cannot become global citizens without a good understanding of their own culture and tradition…. Koreans should march out into the world on the strength of their unique culture and traditional values. Only when the national identity is maintained and intrinsic national spirit upheld will Koreans be able to successfully globalize. (Korea Overseas Information Service 1995)

Shin (2003) demonstrates how odd combinations of globalization and nationalism have coexisted in Korea. Globalization has brought about more interaction and greater integration beyond national boundaries, and thus, it is assumed that sovereignty is being undermined by the global market. Nationalism, emphasizing national identity, national unity, and national autonomy, seems to be, by nature, contradictory to the current trend of globalization. Koizumi (1993) argues that to the extent that globalization is a fact of social life, there is no place for a sense of national identity based on one land, one language, or one race. However, others argue that globalization has not eroded feelings of pride and attachment to the nation. Globalization has not weakened or eliminated nationalism; rather, the spirit of national unity will last and be reinforced even in the global era. Shin (2003) explains how these divergent forces can be readily compatible. According to him, Korea has indeed promoted globalization to enhance Korea’s national competitiveness in a rapidly globalizing world and has simultaneously sought to preserve and strengthen its national identity. This coexistence of globalization and nationalism leads to a fundamental tension in global education between global citizenship education and national interests. Paradoxically, the two surges have been combined in education policy: the awareness of an inevitable tendency toward globalized life and an intensified nationalism. The first speaks to a drive to prepare students to live in an increasingly interconnected world where, through a critical engagement of complex, diverse, global issues, socially meaningful action can be possible. The second is a development of civic pride and exclusive citizenship with a definite agenda of what it calls nation-building and is propelled by an instinct for survival in a climate of global competition. South Korean global education has recently demonstrated the curious mixture of these two forces.

The contemporary trend of globalization, particularly in the domain of finance and trade, provided the impetus to intensify economic nationalism in many countries. Each country has reacted to these emergent global pressures by battling to increase its international advantage and thus has aggressively appropriated globalization for its national goals. For example, Asian states such as Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan have sought actively to maximize the benefits that globalization affords their states in the struggle to survive the global competition for resources, including qualified manpower, resource information, and technology (Berger 1996). South Korea is another case of this nationalist appropriation of globalization. Staggered by the foreign exchange crisis in 1997, Korea has since been fearful of losing ground to other countries in the competition for global capital. The government has declared that its current education system cannot adequately meet the new manpower needs and has emphasized the importance of enhancing Korea’s capacity to compete in the global economy.

In addition to its appropriation for nationalist goals, globalization has stimulated the awareness of national/ethnic culture. Although nationalism could seem to threaten survival in new circumstances that are being dictated by transnational forces, national identity becomes more important as globalization proceeds. Taiwan, for example, has promoted its national identity in the face of the growth of globalization. Fostering national identity, rather than global citizenship, is one of Taiwan’s immediate and urgent concerns as it seeks to endure, and thrive, in the globalized world (Law 2004). Singapore has also sought to develop notions of civic pride and citizenship with a definite agenda of economic development and, ultimately, the survival of the nation-state. Koreans have defined their identity as “immutable” or “primordial” through an imagined conception of “Korean blood” (Jung 2003), regarding themselves as belonging to a “unitary nation” (tanilminjok), an ethnically homogeneous and racially distinctive collectivity. Along these lines, Shin (2003) argues that global forces need not contradict national ones with his observation that “Korea’s strong nationalist character is not a paradox but rather a major feature or ‘paradigm’ of Korean globalization” (p. 18).

Globalization and the incorporation of education

Global education is generally interpreted to mean the provision of insights, ideas, and information that enables students to think and aspire beyond the confines of local and national boundaries (Berger 1996; Koizumi 1993). Korean global education, however, aims also to promote the feelings of national pride and attachment, and to heighten the sense of national identity, although the old notion of national identity, characterized by uniformity and homogeneity, has been altered. It is apparent that global education is contaminated with the political desire to develop national identity and infused with the government’s established ideology of economic survival, rather than being a method for producing citizens of the global community. Korean nationalism is based on a profound sense of cultural distinctiveness and superiority (Han 2007); it has often been defined as an ethnically homogeneous nationalism inextricably tied to national power interests maintained through a hierarchy of state paternalism (Watson 2010). Such a view of national identity is increasingly at odds with the ideals of global education. When ethnic nationalism is regarded as more important than any other values, education that endorses global equalities, social justice, and human rights may be suspended for the sake of the nation.

In the discussion on globalization at the national level, the emphasis has been on improving the levels of achievement and skill acquisition, and consequently on enhancing students’ abilities to “catch up” with the globalized world, in order to produce a highly skilled workforce (Davies and Guppy 1997). Given the forces of economic globalization, this discussion presumes that education is regarded, whether in economically developed or developing nations, as a tool for social and economic progress. Its ability to teach students how to cope with global pressures is emphasized. Indeed, recent education reforms have been enacted in response to the restructuring of the global economy. For example, the Global Education Policy Statement published by the Council of Chief State School Officers in the United States (2006) outlines five major challenges that the United States is expected to face in the twenty-first century. It emphasizes achievement and skill acquisition by pointing out that “our graduates are not well equipped with the skills necessary for success in today’s global economy.” Similarly, Education Priorities for New Zealand, published by New Zealand’s government in May 2003, proclaims the importance of education for New Zealand’s “sustainable social and economic development.” The document specifies that the education system needs to “provide all New Zealanders with strong foundations for future learning; ensure high levels of achievement by all school leavers; ensure that New Zealanders engage in learning throughout their lives and develop a highly skilled workforce; and that they make a strong contribution to knowledge base, especially in key areas of national development” (Ministry of Education 2003: 3–4). This tendency is also quite common in Asian states such as Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan. Japan and Singapore are incorporating globalization into their national goals, and, in their corresponding redefinition of labor force needs, they are encouraging their students both to “go global” and to develop a sense of belonging to the homeland. Taiwan has also emphasized learning English and information and communication technology as transnational skills essential to national competitiveness (Law 2004).

However, national perspectives have been criticized for a tendency to view education solely as a tool for fostering economic productivity and ensuring international survival (Law 2004; Jung 2003). From this standpoint, the primary goal of education is to furnish students with the skills and knowledge that will contribute to their employability in the global marketplace. Little consideration is given to education’s role in preparing students to be global citizens with responsibilities for global issues and problems. This business-focused view of education might eventually discourage students from thinking about the political, social, economic, and environmental aspects of globalization and the institutional and discursive inequalities produced by centuries of Western dominance—inequalities that the students take all too readily for granted (Roman 2003).

Similarly, scholars maintain that global education needs to be viewed in the context of postcolonial assimilation (Appadurai 1996). Postcolonial theory urges us to recognize that globalization is rooted in the Western projects of imperialism and colonialism, which continue to shape the lives of people within not only the developing, but also the developed world, and to perpetuate a global geometry of power that is inherently unequal (Rizvi 2007). This perspective has amply demonstrated the persistence of global inequalities and the threats to local cultures and traditions from a global consumerist culture that is anchored in the West (Bourdieu 1999). New information and communication technologies have enabled the instantaneous circulation of information, ideas, and images, making it possible to conceive of the world as a single space shared by all of humanity. However, the routes of this circulation have hardly been symmetrical and equal and have, by and large, reproduced the structures of the inequalities (Bourdieu 1999). Some influential South Korean literature (Jung 2003; Lee 2003) has also addressed this concern and argued for the need to write curriculum standards from a position of postcolonial criticism.

Globalization and the construction of “global Korea”

Global education discourse is also concerned with the impact and meaning of globalization in South Korea. The word “globalization” (segyehwa) has entered the popular lexicon in South Korea over the last decades, and politicians, educators, and scholars have focused attention on globalization as a response to transnational economic, political, and social concerns. Globalization has become a national catchword in South Korea since the time of the KYS government, and every sector of South Korean society has been highly mobilized to become “global.” Here, we can clearly see an instrumentalist treatment of globalization, that is, using globalization as a means of creating a competitive edge for the nation. In particular, South Korea’s economic collapse during the 1997–1998 Asian financial crisis caused the South Korean government to pursue a globalization campaign. The collapse was the most intense economic crisis that South Korea had faced since the beginning of its rapid economic ascent in the early 1960s. Fear of bankruptcy and unemployment mounted after the foreign currency crisis in 1997–1998. The IMF intervention required the South Korean government to carry out a comprehensive structural adjustment in the economic sector as the price for the relief fund. The main demands of the IMF on South Korean economic infrastructures were to open up financial markets to foreign investment, to increase the flexibility of the labor market, to decentralize and restructure the financial sectors of major conglomerates, and to cut the government’s public budget (Lee and Kim 2010). The immediate response to the IMF intervention was a call for changes in South Korean society, and the discourse of reform became immediately popular.

The government’s drive for segyehwa was represented to the Korean people as a prerequisite for successfully surviving in a competitive world. Segyehwa is an inter-discursive term that evokes globalization, internationalism, and nationalism. As such, segyehwa has psychological, political, and ideological characteristics. The term is differentiated from the simple economics-centered international concept of “globalization,” which tends to regard the world as one global market. Instead, segyehwa connotes a fundamental restructuring of South Korea’s political and socio-economic institutions to prepare South Korea for the challenges to and opportunities for displaying national pride to the globalized world (Kim 2000). The concept of segyehwa is linked to national pride, for example, through exportations of Korean culture such as the “Korean wave” (hallyu).2The discourses of the Korean wave, which were formed collectively by governmental, cultural, and media institutions, have attempted to define and explain hallyu and its success across Asia through a commercial view of culture. In this mainstream view of hallyu, popular culture has a certain market value and potential in the highly competitive transnational cultural media market. Seen this way, the Korean wave both demonstrates and embodies so-called soft power and the spirit of innovation, which are considered essential in the twenty-first century—a “century of culture and limitless competition.”

As part of its pursuit of Koreanized globalization, the KYS government sought to promote Korean studies (han’gukhak) both within and outside Korea. During the past 15 years, there has been a proliferation of festivals and events featuring Korean culture and arts, as well as international academic conferences on Korean studies. The national educational curriculum, too, emphasizes the preservation of Korean national identity while adapting to globalization (Kim 2004).

Globalization has created the need for governmental policies that attract migrant laborers into South Korea’s workforce and society. South Korea, in the competition for manpower and investment capital with other states in Asia, has had to respond to the demands of contemporary capitalism for economic stability and security, cheap labor supplies, and free economic zones. This global environment has led South Korea to allow an influx of migrant laborers. The increasing presence of foreign workers, refugees, and immigrants has eroded the long-established myth of Korea’s homogeneity. Globalization has rapidly transformed South Korea into a multicultural society and has forced Koreans to begin rethinking their beliefs, not only about national identity, but also about the closely associated concepts of belongingness, denizenship, and citizenship. The policies that are included under the terms “multiculturalism,” “cultural diversity,” and “celebrating difference” are creating substantial political and educational debate, and the official discourse has taken a positive turn in its advocacy for multiculturalism. The South Korean government has been promoting cultural diversity and the presence of immigrants as important assets to South Korea’s effort to thrive in an increasingly globalizing world. Global education, in South Korea, has been noted especially for the promotion of “tolerance” and “acceptance” of people from different cultures and nations. Despite the burgeoning public debate on multiculturalism, however, a nationalistic ideology still haunts South Korean society. Koreans’ nationalism has consolidated the prejudice against foreign workers and migrants, and this represents the main obstacle to South Korea’s creation of a multicultural society. Although the term “global Korea” indicates a new approach to inclusive South Korean development, multiculturalism in South Korea is seen as an expedient response to global migration patterns and labor shortages rather than as a substantive change in the direction of social responsibilities to new immigrants (Kang 2002; Watson 2010).

Characteristics of global high schools

The GHSs are interesting sites at which to observe the ways South Korea has responded to the challenges of globalization and multiculturalism. These schools are officially titled “International High Schools” in South Korea, but because their student body is homogenous rather than international, they are often titled “global high schools,” especially when their representatives are describing the schools in English (e.g., Seoul Global High School). Six GHSs are located in four of the 16 provinces in South Korea: one GHS in Seoul, Busan, and Incheon each, and three GHSs in Gyeonggi province. Busan GHS was first established in 1998 and the other five schools were established between 2006 and 2011. The creation of a GHS requires the approval of both the Superintendent of the Provincial Office of Education and the minister of MEHRD, which supervises the national curriculum standards, student recruitment, and staffing at GHSs. Weekday class hours are composed of seven to eight regular 50-min classes and one or two more after-school classes. In addition, some GHSs hold after-school classes during weekends and vacations to prepare students for the admission processes at prestigious universities.

In South Korea’s GHSs, 10–20 % of the teachers are foreign, most of whom teach English or other foreign-language classes, except for Seoul GHS, where 10 foreign teachers (out of a total of 69 teachers) teach history, social studies, mathematics, biology, and English. Although the number of foreign teachers is small, courses are taught in English at several of the GHSs. For example, at the Seoul and Cheongshim GHSs, all classes are conducted in English except for Korean history, the Korean language, and foreign languages. At other GHSs, such as Goyang and Dongtan GHSs, English is used in English classes and in some “English-immersion classes.” English textbooks are also commonly used in GHSs. For example, Cheongshim GHS uses American textbooks in every subject but Korean, Korean history, and foreign languages.

The education Cheongshim students receive approaches that of US schools because students are immersed in an environment where communication naturally takes place in English and English textbooks are used. This results into the enrollment of a large number of Cheongshim graduates in college and universities overseas. To create a living English environment, native English teachers comprise over 20% of our faculty. (Cheongshim 2013)

The GHSs admit only the highest-ranked graduates of South Korean middle schools. Recently, GHSs have gained popularity among students and parents because they have had outstanding results on college entrance examinations. Alumni data show that the graduates of GHSs attend the most distinguished domestic and foreign universities. In the case of Seoul GHS, among the 157 graduates of 2011, 95 students went to top-five universities in South Korea and 37 went reputable universities overseas; in the case of Incheon GHS, among the 139 graduates of 2011, 63 students went to top-five universities in South Korea and 10 went reputable universities overseas. Because the social value of a diploma from a top-ranked university is so great in South Korea (Sung 2005), the successful outcomes of GHSs in terms of college admission have generated an extraordinary popularity, which has in turn created an “educational divide” in South Korea (Park 2007). The intense competition for GHS admission has caused a sharp increase in family expenses for private tutoring, which means that students from strong economic backgrounds are more likely to be admitted to the GHSs. Under these conditions, admission to a GHS is less attainable for those students who do not receive sufficient socio-economic support from their families.

Moreover, GHSs use English competence as a critical screening criterion and are currently expanding classes that improve students’ access to foreign universities, such as the “Global Leadership Program” and the “Overseas Study Program.” Thus, students from certain family backgrounds—for example, those whose parents are diplomats, professors, or business delegates, and who have lived in English-speaking countries for several years—have a distinct advantage. This situation demonstrates that social segregation in South Korea is becoming apparent in the realm of education. Along these same lines, Park (2007) claims that GHSs reproduce social stratifications and play a significant role in accelerating social and economic polarization.

Shin (2003) argues that, in South Korea, globalization is being appropriated by the nationalist agenda, which leads to a corresponding intensification of ethnic identity. Interestingly, he also hinted at this coexistence, the twofold process of globalization and the strengthening of ethnic identity, at one elite global high school: the Korean Minjok (National) Leadership Academy (KMLA). At this school, the instructional medium is English, in accordance with school’s mission to establish Korea as a global leader without sacrificing a strong sense of national identity. The mission statement of the school is as follows:

KMLA is a boarding school for Korea’s most gifted high school students…. To this end, KMLA strives to fulfill two requirements: to foster academic excellence in its students with the intention of guiding them into the most prestigious academic institutions at home and abroad; and to instill a sense of pride and respect for Korea’s cultural tradition. It is our aim to provide our students with academic tools necessary to achieve the highest levels of excellence and leadership in their chosen fields; to contribute positively to the welfare of our nation; and to enable Korea to contribute a major share to the progress of the world community. (KMLA 2013)

Though KMLA is not one of the 6GHSs, it has become a model of Korea’s globalization program.

Globalization and nationalism in the curricular texts

In this section, we will examine how the construction of the meaning of global education is reflected in the national curriculum standards of Korean global high schools. Based upon our literature review (Cole 1984; Roman 2003; Banks 2008; UNESCO 2006; Oxfam 2006), the major concepts of global education are identified (e.g., globalization and interdependence, global competitiveness, international understanding, global citizenship, sustainable development, international human rights, social justice, and conflict resolution). We then examine the curriculum to determine how it addresses the substance of the major concepts of global education, taking note of the statement of purpose, definition of curricular characteristics, educational objectives, and other content that pertains to the above-mentioned concepts. The national curriculum standards were developed in 2007 by the Korean Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation (KICE), a government-operated research center run on behalf of the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MEHRD). The standards are not intended to apply to all schools, but are to be used only for GHSs. The analyzed text includes the goals of global education, the statement of purpose for GHSs, curriculum characteristics, and the objectives for subject teaching. The document was written in Korean, and so the excerpts in this paper have been translated by one of the authors. To confirm the accuracy of the translation, an educational researcher who is bilingual in Korean and English then retranslated the document. The best translations were chosen by a careful comparison of the two versions.

Our study examined the selected national curriculum standards through a critical lens of social and cultural perspectives. This method helps to disclose the ways texts are socially and culturally constructed, produced, and recontextualized in different fields (Fairclough 2003; van Dijk 2008). National curriculum standards of global education can be thought of as discourses that regulate instructional discourses and so affect students’ identity, attitudes, and roles in terms of globalization. Considering the sociological nature of school knowledge leads to the question of what larger social contexts shape curricular decision-making and the development of school knowledge (Bernstein 1990). Even though teachers have their own spaces in which to adapt official knowledge, official curricular standards strongly regulate classroom teaching and interactions, and it is therefore worthwhile to attend to national curriculum standards of global education. The following analysis is based on the assumption that curriculum is shaped by their contexts and by society in general.

The statement of purpose for the curriculum is a starting point for the critical review because it steers the course of the whole curriculum. The following excerpt from the statement of purpose epitomizes the characteristics of the selected curriculum standards.

Students in the global age must have an adequate command of the language and equip themselves to effectively perform their work in the fields of politics, economy, society, and culture. The curriculum facilitates the enhanced presence of international perspectives for students as future global leaders and citizens by widening the scope to include broad knowledge of international society and diverse cultures. (MEHRD 2007: 2)

The curriculum highlights education’s role in preparing students to become internationally competitive “manpower” that can serve Korea’s political, economic, and social needs in the competition with other nations. The statement of purpose goes on to make this aim explicit:

The subject matters of international economics consist of developing problem-solving strategies and knowledge of international business in the face of changes in the international economic environment that force nations to open their economic system. It [the curriculum] aims to focus on fostering economic knowledge and helping students to develop attitudes that will teach them how to actively adapt themselves to a competitive environment that is getting fiercer day by day. Students should contribute to the development not only of the Korean economy, but also the world economy. (MEHRD 2007: 42)

The above educational goals show that global education is defined as necessary to build a more productive and competitive international economy and to meet the demands of national markets. Students are regarded as future professional experts who should be prepared for the changing environment at the global level. It can be understood in this context that global education is used to prepare students with abilities to increase Korea’s global competitiveness. This instrumental perspective on global education is also reflected in the emphasis on having a command of the English language. Students are required to master English as future Korean leaders because this global language is considered the necessary means to secure Korea’s position as a “first-rate world nation.” The statement of purpose also alludes to the importance of international understanding and global citizenship education; however, its focus is substantially on providing students with knowledge and skills for national competitiveness. In the face of a persistent international focus on global competition, South Korean leaders have accepted the ideas and policies associated with neoliberal globalization as an inevitable reality and in turn have constructed policy initiatives to adapt the South Korean economy to the structures of global capitalism. Undoubtedly, global education is overtly understood and interpreted in South Korea within a framework of global economic competitiveness. In South Korea, global education is often equated with preparedness for economic globalization.

It is also interesting to notice that market competitiveness is combined with national concerns (e.g., understanding “the reality of our nation,” respecting Korean cultures, and more in the following excerpt). A solid understanding of Korean culture is emphasized as a precondition to an understanding of the diversity of cultures in the world. This understanding is referred to frequently in the document.

It is expected that students understand our Korean cultures and the reality of our nation and build up their ability to creatively develop as students in the context of globalization…. Students should have balanced attitudes to accept the different systems of other nations and cultures on the basis of understanding and respecting our own [Korean] culture. (MEHRD 2007: 3)

Key goals of the curriculum include inculcating a sense of national identity and instilling a belief in the importance of cultural consensus. The curriculum places great emphasis on Korea’s own culture and actively promotes a feeling of affiliation. It presupposes that fostering Korean identity will give students points of reference that will enable them to determine their place in the world. A clear cultural self-identity is seen to be especially important in light of the disruptive impact of globalization, and it is therefore considered the starting point of global education.
In addition to human capital perspectives and an emphasis on Korean culture, the curriculum focuses on perspectives on international understanding. The document instructs teachers to guide students toward an understanding of diverse regional cultures and to encourage them to develop their communication skills through international experiences. The curriculum states that international understanding is aimed at teaching students cultural, historical, and geographical knowledge of matters such as international politics, international economics, comparative culture, and regional studies. The following sentences illustrate the document’s perspective on international understanding:

Students should develop the ability to inquire about the causes and effects of globalization and to take a balanced stance on world issues through engagement in diverse, global perspectives…. It is required to understand not only conflict but also the coexistence of different cultures as significant elements to build up a society of interdependent mankind in an age of globalization. (MEHRD 2007: 76)

Even though some of the curriculum’s perspectives on international understanding and multiculturalism are inclusive, the curriculum rarely addresses directly the spectrum of specific issues raised in the literature on global education, such as social justice, human rights, global poverty, gender inequality, and general moral responsibility. In some places, the document stresses students’ knowledge of international problems and issues, but those passages are limited to the suggestion of possible responses to changes in the global economic and political environment.

In sum, despite the inclusion of some remarks on international understanding, the participatory role of the “global citizen” is less recognized as a central educational goal in the present national curriculum for GHSs. The analysis in this paper confirms Shin’s (2003) observation on the coexistence of such seemingly contradictory trends as globalization and nationalism. Segyehwa has been used as a catalyst for instituting global education that is designed to prepare Koreans for the challenges and opportunities of a rapidly globalizing world economy by strengthening national competitiveness. Education policy debates have become increasingly infused with the rhetoric and imagery of “globalization.” In light of this, the primary goal of education policy has become to enable individual students to acquire the skills necessary for them to perform more effectively, and hence more productively, in a changing global labor market. It can be maintained that the curriculum appropriates the notion of globalization for the sake of nationalist goals by upholding national identity in reaction to global pressures.


It has been asserted that curbing ethnocentric sentiments and fostering an open society is the most difficult but most fundamental task required for globalization in South Korea (Lee and Kim 2010), and that changing the nation’s mindset or perceptions regarding the broad concept of globalization is yet to be achieved. A relevant curriculum for preparedness for globalization should take into consideration the complex nature of global issues and trends beyond the concerns of national economic survival. As several scholars demonstrate (Hanvey 1982; O’Sullivan 1999), a wide range of global concerns should be dealt with in global education. It should include the study of global changes, not only from an economic standpoint, but also from those of gender, human rights, ecology, anti-war, and humanitarian issues, all of which require a view “from below” (Brecher et al. 2002).

But the real practices of global education are a far cry from its ideals (Hicks 2003; Hanvey 1982). For example, the curriculum analyzed in this study presupposes that a society facing a global age needs global elites. This view is closely aligned with the social status attached to GHSs in South Korea, which are the most selective and elitist high schools. Our findings in this research reveal that the establishment of GHSs is a social response to the demand for elite high schools. It is important to remember that the first GHS was established in the late 1990s, in response to a demand by the business sector and by upper-middle-class parents (Sung 2005). The textual characteristics of the curriculum are a reflection of these social forces and the historical construction of segyehwa. Although curriculum standards for GHSs seem to expand global consciousness somewhat through the cultivated understanding of other societies, they do not necessarily lead to increased global citizenship. This study shows that global education in South Korean global high schools has been symbolically appropriated for national competitiveness. Various other developmental Asian states display similar trends in appropriating globalization for national competitiveness (Law 2004; Ho 2009; Wee 2000).

However, compared to other Asian Tiger countries, such as Singapore and Taiwan, the advent of multiculturalism is relatively recent in South Korea. Owing to the influx of immigrants, who now compose 2 % (1 million people) of the population, there has been a rise in discussions on multiculturalism. But Korea’s ethnic nationalism still maintains its ideology of racial homogeneity on the strength of the remaining 98 % of the population. The problematic social perspective that increasing national competiveness is equivalent to globalization has partially led to emotional difficulties in accepting immigrants whose ethnicities, languages, and cultures differ from those of Korean communities. Park (2009) succinctly criticizes these difficulties as “copied orientalism,” a phenomenon that has become embedded in the Korean psyche. The South Korean prejudice against Asian immigrants, as well as the tendency to aggrandize western, Anglo-Saxon cultures, have been strongly criticized (Park 2009). This postcolonial criticism reminds us of the “white mask” (Fanon 1967) worn by many Koreans.

The above discussion reflects the appropriation of global education as a nationalist goal in South Korea in reaction to the effects of globalization. This phenomenon is closely linked to globalization’s social evolution in South Korea. The social component of GHSs precludes their curriculum’s taking an active position on global education. With its lack of direct engagement with the notion of citizenship and the promotion of global perspectives, this social component betrays the ideal of global education. In this regard, global education will not be possible if there is no criticism of the current thinking about, and conceptualizations of, globalization. The acceptance of this criticism would be a starting point for the reconstruction of the curriculum for GHSs and would pose a serious question about the validity of the elite position enjoyed by GHSs in South Korea.

This article has found the construction of the global education curriculum to be based on the desire to increase national competitiveness, but this does not necessarily suggest that education is instrumental in shaping students’ identities with the intention of reproducing Korea’s dominant culture. The beginning of this paper assumes that the national curriculum has been a medium of the existing macro-social structure and its instructional discourse. But classroom teaching can be a space in which official knowledge is recontextualized into pedagogic practices that create the possibility of change (Bernstein 1990; Apple et al. 2005). A number of South Korean teachers have been involved in this process and have thus been constantly faced with the predicament of balancing the social pressure to transmit knowledge with the intellectual imperative to promote social change. South Korean teachers have a strong history of suspending traditional approaches and adopting more democratic ones in the classroom (e.g., see Sung and Apple 2003; Lee 2007). Our research does not include this process of recontextualization at the classroom level, but focuses instead on the curriculum documents of the “official recontextualizing field” (Bernstein 1990). The pedagogic practice is left unanalyzed, but the discussion in this paper stimulates further empirical research on the classroom application of global education.


SHSs have been established to provide talented students with opportunities to learn in special areas such as science, foreign languages, and the arts. Meanwhile, these schools have also been at the center of a social debate in the well-known Korean culture of “education fever” (Seth 2002) because they have become very prestigious schools that cherry-pick top-rated students.


The Korean wave phenomenon refers to the varied and uneven reception process of Korean cultural/media products and images in Asia as well as particular forms of cultural and media representations of the transborder spreading of Korean popular culture (Lee 2005). The term “Korean wave” was initially coined by the Chinese mass media in 2001 in response to a rise in the popularity of Korean pop culture products and stars (Jang 2004). This trend later spread to countries in Southeast Asia and other parts of Asia.



This work was supported by a grant from the Kyung Hee University in 2011 (KHU-20110097).

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© Education Research Institute, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea 2013