The Missing Diversity in the South Korean Miracle

So, Ga-Young (2016). 'The Missing Diversity in the South Korean Miracle' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

This paper raises the importance of the Capability Approach in understanding the ends of education, particularly the intrinsic value of building human diversity among the youth. In addition, its empirical part aims to support the practical operationalization of the Capability Approach by capturing South Korean university students’ aspirations for diversity. The Capability Set consists of two layers: the social functioning and the individual agency questionnaires. The analysis of performances within different groups is also a focus in this paper.
The extraordinary success, called the East Asian Miracle, during the mid-late twentieth century has concentrated attention on economic and educational achievements at the aggregate level. This has also resulted in subordinating the educational sphere in relation to the productive one, turning education’s embeddedness into two meanings: firstly, reducing human agency to just labour services in the market; secondly, ignoring aspirations for diversity. In this way, the education sphere has unintentionally neglected its intrinsic value of building and realizing diverse capabilities the youth potentially have.
Furthermore, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s annual Human Development Report, has consistently ranked these miracle countries as achieving very high levels of human development. To illustrate, in the 2015 report, the UNDP ranks all three East Asian Miracle countries, which are part of the report, to be within the top ranking countries with respect to every aspect.  This report’s education variables including the expected and average years of schooling indicate that the longer education period is the higher education achievement level is. Its inclusion of two education quality variables, teacher ratio and public expenditure on education, is also limited in reading the education’s intrinsic value to establish diverse human agencies.
On the other hand, the employment of mixed methods enables this paper to capture different narratives. It eventually projects a different assessment of these miracle countries’ education achievements. Firstly, education has become a universal commodity and rendered a competitive market. It is no longer just a public good that the state is responsible for. After-school tutoring institutes are pervasive and the efforts to get into certain institutes where certain star private tutors instruct are enormous, mechanically confining the youth to unhealthy and unnecessary competition. A significant proportion of household expenditure goes into this private education market, leading to high household debt in the worst case. Secondly, the hours of work students put in for schooling are relatively long. This amount of time includes not only the formal schooling but also extra studies done in the private or personal arenas. In turn, it drops the amount of leisure or free time, which is also necessary to cultivate the capabilities the youth have reason to value. This story becomes more detrimental when it compares East Asian countries to Finland, a country that has scored equivalently high on the Programme for International Student Assessment, but has spent much fewer average hours on schooling.
As a case study of revisiting the East Asian Miracle with special attention to education, South Korea serves as an interesting context where the youth aspire to have diverse capabilities, but face various obstacles to enjoy such freedom due to the restricted labour market and the over-competitive education ranking system. Besides, South Korean youth study the longest hours among their counter youth in the Organization for Cooperation and Development. The author’s own development of survey questionnaires and collection of data with students in South Korea strengthen the diverse agencies the youth aspire to have, which are yet to be realized unfortunately in this miracle.
This study makes a strong case that the Capability Approach is necessary in understanding the education outcomes in the diversity-respecting perspective. It is because the Capability Approach opens up doors for the youth to acknowledge their agencies and develop a broad range of functioning, capabilities and worthwhile achievements in an empowering and creative way.
Saving education from being subordinate or the mere means to economic growth is important. The necessity to realize diverse capabilities that the youth aspire to have is also urgent at this historical juncture when youth unemployment has emerged as a serious international problem. In the end, this discussion leaves some lessons for currently developing countries regarding how to develop its education system in such a way as to create and preserve human diversity on the ground.
Key words: Capability Approach, Education, Youth Empowerment, Mixed-Methods, South Korea, Development

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