Initial Stage: Expansion of Middle-School Education
(1961–79) prepared the framework of Korea
’s educational system, including its national entrance examinations; this framework still provides the foundation for today’s systems.
Upon the country’s founding in 1948, Korea
adopted a 6-3-3-4 formal education
system (i.e., six years of primary education
, six years of secondary education
(three years of middle school and three years of high school), and four years of
). Primary education
had been compulsory from the beginning of the nation, but middle-school enrollment was not compulsory until 1984. The Park Chung-hee
administration instituted radical changes to the education
system in 1969, forming the basic framework of Korea
Immediately after seizing power through a coup
d’état in 1961, Park Chung-hee
announced a five-year economic development plan that was to be launched in 1962. Park constructed a system by which state funds were allocated to the private sector
via financial institutions, thus consolidating a capitalistic system that nevertheless allowed the state to control the resources that it needed to sustain its economic activities. In the 1960s, Korea
was still an agrarian society, with close to 70% of its working population engaged in agriculture. Although the GER
for primary school exceeded 90% in that era, the GER
for noncompulsory middle school was under 50%. On the other hand, a few elite people could afford to send their children to school (including university) and those children were encouraged to attend a few prestigious middle schools, thus causing fierce competition among applicants.
Under these circumstances, the government’s mission was to correct the inequalities surrounding middle-school enrollment. This effort, in the latter half of the 1960s, coincided with a period of economic growth that was driven by exports of inexpensive, labor-intensive products such as textiles; during this period, light industry hired the bulk of the labor force. The expansion of middle-school enrollment was an important measure in developing workers with the necessary skills and knowledge to engage in manual factory work.
In 1969, the Park administration revised the nation’s education
law in two important ways. The first was the Middle School Equalization Policy
, which contained such measures as (1) the complete abolition of middle-school entrance examinations to allow all applicants to enroll, (2) a lottery-based enrollment selection process for when applicants exceed a school’s capacity, and (3) the equalization of educational levels across schools through the abolishment of the few prestige schools. These measures were applied universally to private schools as well. This policy was a declaration to parents and children that middle-school enrollment would be provided equally to all.
The second change was the introduction of a system for governing
. First, the government would set the enrollment limit for each university and graduate school, and second, applicants to all universities, including private institutions, were obliged to undergo a standardized preliminary entrance examination.Footnote 5 The government applied these quantitative restrictions to maintain quality.
In response to the above educational reform, the GER
for middle school in Korea
rose rapidly. In previous studies on Korean educational policy, researchers have corroborated the government’s claim that the main purpose of this equalization policy was to stem excessive educational competition; however, the goal of human resource development turned out to be more important.
This educational reform coincided with the spread of rapid economic growth into rural areas. In the 1970s, the government carried out Saemaul Undong, or the New Community Movement, a state-led agrarian modernization drive that facilitated development in rural villages, which then began to benefit from the national economic growth. Convinced that children who acquired skills and knowledge during their education
would have brighter futures in the rapidly growing society, farmers chose to send their children to middle school, even at their own expense. The possibility of social mobility
was a key factor in this choice. The number of children who received secondary education
rapidly increased in the 1970s, and these students became the core group of blue-collar workers in labor-intensive industries.Footnote 6
Heavy and Chemical Industry: Expansion of Upper Secondary Education
the Constitution of South Korea
in 1972 to launch the authoritarian Yusin System, which further strengthened his dictatorial authority. In 1973, Park announced an HCI
development plan, emphasizing the promotion of industries focusing on steel, nonferrous metals, shipbuilding, machinery, electronics, and chemicals. During this process, the chaebol
(large, family-controlled corporate groups) made inroads in the priority industrial sectors, allowing those groups to expand and diversify their economic activities thanks to the government’s preferential treatment.
In this stage, large enterprises (LEs) needed workers who were equipped with professional knowledge. For instance, Hattori attributed Korea
’s rapid HCI
development to the spread of numerically controlled machine tools. Korea
’s LEs used highly educated engineers as shop-floor managers to educate and train workers at the shop level in how to operate these numerically controlled machine tools; as a result, the LEs were able to grow into competitive exporters in a short time (Hattori 2005, pp. 212–213). These LEs then required many more workers who could acquire the necessary knowledge and skills.
In the early 1970s, the GER
for upper-secondary education
, which comprised high school and vocational school, was less than 30%. At that time, high school in Korea
was an institution only for those elite students who were competing to attend a university. To remedy this situation, in 1973, the Park administration adopted the High School Equalization Policy
, in which high-school applicants were first screened with a regional uniform examination; those who qualified on this exam were allocated to individual high schools within their school districts by lottery. This policy was an attempt to raise the nation’s high-school GER
by making such schools more egalitarian, following the pattern used in middle-school reform. At the same time, the government also drastically increased the number of vocational schools with the goal of producing a large number of industry-ready graduates. As a result of these policies, Korea
’s upper-secondary GER
exceeded 60% by the late 1970s.
Higher-Education Zeal and the Demand for Technical Experts in the Late 1970s
as it equalized secondary-education
institutions, the Park government also exercised direct control over the screening of university applicants and restricted the expansion of university enrollment limits. Working against these measures, there was increasing social pressure to open up the universities as the high-school enrollment increased.
The government stressed the principle of equalization of educational opportunities and the acceptance of social norms such as that opportunities for education
are universally open and that hard work enables children to obtain academic qualifications that their parents have not. In addition, an increasing number of parents sought to send their children to university—even though they had to bear the high tuition costs—on the belief that academic qualifications were the key to success in life. For instance, in a 1977 survey, even among parents with only a middle-school education
, 66.1% hoped that their sons would receive a university degree (Hattori 2005, p. 126).Footnote 7
On the other hand, as Korea
operations expanded, the shortage of engineers meant that their wages increased sharply in the late 1970s. In tandem with LEs’ need for increasingly sophisticated technology, their demand for sophisticated engineers increased rapidly. Along with engineers, white-collar professionals who focused on business management were in high demand, particularly in chaebol
enterprises. As the scale of business expanded, the demand for more university graduates grew.
In response, the Park administration changed its policy to gradually expand the university enrollment limit from 58,000 in 1975 to 76,000 in 1978 and 182,000 in 1979 (Umakoshi 1995, p. 253). These figures included enrollment in special vocational colleges, which prior to that point had not handled college-level courses. Although President
Park was assassinated in October 1979, his successors maintained this shift in educational policy and continued to increase university enrollment limits in the early 1980s.