Books About Poverty in North KoreaThere are countless statistics and facts about global poverty on the internet. While this is very helpful in providing readers with a sense of what is happening around the world, it can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, statistics and facts do not adequately reflect the reality of impoverished nations.  Thus, many people rely on novels to understand the human experiences within impoverished nations. Poverty in North Korea is unknown to most people, and books are a good way to educate readers.

Storytelling relays information and allows people to collect official data. It allows readers to grasp the reality and emotions of others. According to the BBC, personal experiences are paramount in effectively bringing attention to the significant problems around them. The emotional response readers have serves as a catalyst for aid.

North Korea and Poverty

North Korea is a mysterious and unknown country to many people. Since 1948, its population has reached 25 million. As a result of its economic structure and lack of participation within the world economy, poverty in North Korea is prevalent. Approximately 60% of North Korea’s population lives in poverty.

North Korea has a command economy, which is commonplace among communist countries. The government has control over all monetary exchanges, causing the economy to remain relatively stagnant due to a lack of competition between businesses. Additionally, North Korea’s trade restrictions and sanctions have deeply hurt the country’s economy. As a result, the lack of participation has effectively barred the country from growing within the international market. Its economy is vulnerable to collapse and rates of poverty in North Korea continue to soar. Fortunately, these books below strengthen the fight against global poverty by illustrating the suffering that occurs there and showing why action is needed.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

This novel was published in 2015 and has been universally praised for its ability to convey such deep human emotion in harrowing situations. The Girl With the Seven Names is a biography of the author’s experiences in North Korea. It reflects Lee’s struggle to escape poverty with her family. In this book, Lee describes the horrid treatments and deplorable conditions that she faced living under the current North Korean regime.

Furthermore, she explains how such experiences have emotionally affected her and those around her. This work provides an inside look into the realities of poverty in North Korea. Additionally, readers are able to better understand the living conditions faced by this country’s populace.

The Accusation by Bandi

The Accusation is a series of short stories published between 1989 and 1995. This work is unique being it is not a traditional memoir, rather, it contains small chapters reflecting the everyday lives of those living in poverty in North Korea. The country’s secretive nature has made it difficult to acquire information. As such, Bandi’s work has become one of the very few sources within the country. Bandi has chosen to live within North Korea in order to continue reporting. The Accusation has been given tremendous praise for its honest writing and its importance as a primary source.

Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea by Jang Jin-Sung

Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea is critically acclaimed as an exposé on the way high-ranking officers of North Korea live. Author Jang Jin-Sung was previously the poet laureate to Kim Jong-il. Thus, he obtained access to extremely censored information. In this work, the author and protagonist lend a forbidden magazine to a friend and are forced to flee the country as fugitives. His writing gives an insightful account of how the upper-class lives and how the hierarchical power structure operates.

Additionally, Jin-Sung’s novel discloses the political pressure of working close with Kim Jong-il and the harsh consequences of spreading information. Jin-Sung is able to provide an astonishing amount of valuable information for readers to understand the social injustice in North Korea.

How These Books Help

These are only several books that shed light on people’s experiences and poverty in North Korea. Fortunately, many NGOs and countries continue to sent food and monetary aid to help those living in poverty. The most prevalent of North Korea’s donors are China and South Korea, with China having specifically sent an astonishing 240,074 tons of food to North Korea in 2012. Additionally, the United Nations has received pledges from Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, Norway, France, Germany, Denmark, Finland and Ireland to aid in alleviating poverty in North Korea.

Although North Korea appears to be mysterious and secretive, researching the living conditions within this nation is not impossible. Through the primary sources and biographies reflecting life in North Korea, readers are able to understand human struggles which have occurred in this area for over half a century. Acknowledging poverty and understanding the means to provide aid has motivated many to take action today.

-Stella Vallon
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in South Korea
Many have avoided the subject of menstruation in the public spaces of South Korea, as it often receives the label of being a private experience for women. The expectation of South Korean women is that they separate their private life from their public image. As such, the government has immensely ignored period poverty in South Korea.

Brief History

The lack of discussion surrounding menstruation has been consistent since the 1980s. Alongside this issue, patriarchal dominance and gender inequality are similarly longstanding. The harsh stigmas that others have placed upon menstruation accompany inequalities concerning wages, proper mannerisms, pregnancy and family roles.

Many women’s unions pushed for menstrual leave at work as a necessity directly correlated to their health and reproductive care. In 2001, South Korea authorized unpaid menstrual leave; however, women did not exercise the policy. Meanwhile, the refrain from utilizing the law strengthened due to the 2003 law alteration. Women could only receive menstrual leave upon employee’s request, which contributed to workplace discrimination and organizational discouragement.

Others Impacted

In addition to these conditions in organizational settings, period poverty in South Korea was prevalent among lower-class families. In 2016, “insole girls” began to circulate in the media. It referred to girls who could not afford period products using insoles of sneakers instead of pads. This was a direct result of Yuhan-Kimberly, the leading brand of period products. The company raised the prices of its pads by 20%, despite period products being at their highest point in the region.

The exposure of “insole girls” began to stimulate discussion of period poverty in South Korea. The overwhelming response was anger. Period products costed half a living wage at the time, and many representatives began to advocate for period products to receive treatment as a public good. Charities and nonprofit organizations began to plan the distribution of free period products, such as pads, underwear and cosmetics for girls.

Yuhan-Kimberly released a public statement explaining its pledge to donate 1.5 million pads and develop cheaper options for several demographics. With new talk of affordable period products, the conversation began to shift toward menstrual cups and reusable pads, which the South Korean government combatted.

The Current Fight

Despite the tensions of gender disparities and menstruation, the South Korean government began to relax restrictions and pass new policies regarding menstruation. In 2017, the government began to allow the sale of menstrual cups, despite its previous prohibition. In 2018, the South Korean metropolitan government announced the provision of free menstrual products in 10 public venues, such as the Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul History Museum and Seoul Metropolitan Library. The public has also stood up to fight period poverty.

Nonprofit organizations, such as the Korean Women’s Environmental Network (KWEN), fight for menstrual safety and period poverty. As an eco-friendly feminist advocacy group, KWEN has protested against unsafe sanitary pads and toxin-filled menstrual products. KWEN continues to encourage taboo discussions of women’s bodies, educating its audience on topics ranging from women’s hygiene to products that are safe and environmentally friendly.

As part of the ongoing discussion on period poverty in South Korea, many women spoke out on how people should consider period products a public necessity. They fought against the censorship of “saengri,” a common informal term for a period. They also began discussions of gender disparities in the workplace, family life and society.

Cho Nam Joo’s book “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 A Novel” sheds light on the different obstacles and pressures of being a woman in Korea. Considering its debut in 2016 — the crux of censored women experiences, Cho was challenging the stigmas to menstruation and the female experience. Cho is part of the feminist movement that stirs in the South Korean community.

A New Direction

Public discussion, nonprofits and the government have ushered in promising change regarding period poverty in South Korea. With continued support, women can challenge the stigmas regarding menstruation and dwindle the numbers of impoverished communities that period poverty in South Korea affects. The idea of a foreseeable end to gender discrimination and menstrual taboo has surfaced and resounds strongly throughout the country.

Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Solving Hunger in South Korea, From Its Own Borders to the International CommunitySouth Korea remains one of the most technologically and economically developed countries. Standing as the number one most educated country and the 14th largest economy, South Korea has a small rate of undernourishment and relatively low levels of poverty. The poverty rate in South Korea is 13% for the working-age population and 44% for the elderly, ages 66 and older. Additionally, the rate of hunger in South Korea is relatively low. As of 2019, South Korea ranks 29 on the Global Food Security Index and only 2.5% of South Korea is undernourished. Stunting in South Korea, which refers to a child who is too short for their age as a result of chronic malnutrition, is 3%. These low rates of undernourishment and stunting are due to the high presence and quality of South Korea’s Food Safety Net Programs.

Innovate Ways to Battling Hunger

South Korea has implemented excellent programs and initiatives for poverty and hunger-reduction. The South Korean government worked to alleviate hunger among the elderly by offering a retirement program where elderly individuals receive about $200 a month. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety in South Korea also established a food safety management system to provide safer and healthier food. Foods that are made domestically go through a three-step process of manufacturing, distribution and consumption.

During the manufacturing stage, the business operator must submit a food and item report. Inspections are then conducted to ensure the safety of the products. In the distribution stage, food products are collected and inspected further to strengthen the safety of food distribution. The food is also traced through a system so that all distribution routes are tracked. Lastly, the program ensures that in the consumption stage, all false or over-exaggerated advertisements are monitored thoroughly and food standards are met. This three-step program is essential to ensure the food safety and nutritional needs are met.

Addressing Food Waste and Building Rice Self-Sufficiency

Today, the world produces enough food to sustain every single individual, but almost a third of all food produced every year never reaches consumption due to excessive food waste. To tackle this problem and maximize the efficiency of food distribution, South Korea has implemented food waste programs that recycle more than 95% of its food waste. Leftover food in major cities like Seoul is collected from residences, hotels and restaurants and deposited in sorting facilities. The food is then crushed and dried and used as fertilizer, animal feed and even used for generating electricity. This program has reduced food waste in districts by 30% and in restaurants by 40%.

One of the biggest contributions to hunger reduction in South Korea is the system of rice self-sufficiency, where rice consumption became a matter of “national duty.” In the late 1970s, South Korea grew self-sufficient in rice for the first time. Local consumers were prompted to buy local Korean produce through food campaigns that insisted on the consumption of rice as an important national responsibility. As a result of local rice production and consumption, the average rural income grew higher than the average urban income and South Korea became self-sufficient in its most essential food commodity: rice. This rice self-sufficiency contributed tremendously to food security in South Korea.

Helping Others

South Korea has come a long way since the Japanese colonization of Korea and the Korean War. The country has found innovative ways to strengthen its economy, reduce its poverty and establish food security and food safety net programs. These innovative programs and the resulting low rates of hunger have inspired the international community to take note of South Korea’s achievements and follow its lead. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), for instance, has joined forces with South Korea to encourage and strengthen its Zero-Hunger efforts in the Asia-Pacific region. South Korea has been working with FAO to help drought-stricken farmers in Afghanistan as well as provide training in rice production for farming communities in West Africa. In June of 2019, South Korea also responded to the severe food shortages afflicting 40% of North Korea by distributing $8 million in food aid to North Korea.

Today, the vast influence that South Korea has on the international community is clear. Not only did they create new critical ways to solve important issues such as poverty, hunger and food waste in their own country, but they also shared these strategies with other countries. South Korea continues to provide aid and assistance to countries like Afghanistan and communities in West Africa while ensuring that hunger in South Korea is managed.

—Nada Abuasi
Photo: Flickr

South Korea’s Foreign Aid
South Korea, or the Republic of Korea officially, is stepping forward as a global leader in delivering foreign aid. During the COVID-19 pandemic, South Korea’s foreign aid will amount to $400 million USD donated to programs dedicated to improving health in developing countries, according to South Korea’s fiscal chief Moon Jae-In in April 2020. In 2017, he was the chief of staff to President Roh Moo-hyun. The country has also enacted foreign aid by pledging to extend the due dates of international loans and payments.

Where South Korea’s Foreign Aid is Going

South Korea’s foreign aid has helped South Korea emerge as a world leader, and especially since the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) recruited it. Another thing that has helped South Korea emerge as a world leader was its swift detection, containment and treatment of COVID-19. South Korea lowered the number of cases in the county to 61 cases on October 24, 2020 – all without imposing a full lockdown.

In Tanzania, South Korean foreign aid is implementing a project to empower rural women. It will facilitate this project from 2020 to 2023, with $5 million USD. Agricultural facilities will undergo construction, and female farmers will receive marketing and technical education. This will improve women’s access to land. South Korea will also establish a center for victims of gender-based violence.

South Korea has undergone a radical transformation. It has gone from being a recipient to a significant donor of international aid. In the 1960s, South Korea received over $1,400 million USD in foreign aid. Decades later, in 1987, South Korea adopted democracy, and institutions received new designs to better serve the interests of the public. In 1987, it donated $25 million in foreign aid, but this does not include aid to North Korea, or else this amount would be far larger. This change was due to South Korea’s official adoption of democracy in 1987 when June demonstrations forced the government to announce democratic reforms. A free market allowed for competition, and therefore, innovation to take place, thus sustaining the economy and bolstering the GDP per capita, from $2,835 USD in 1986 to $13,403 USD in 1996.

South Korea as an ODA Donor

In 1987, South Korea became a donor for official development assistance (ODA). ODA is government aid to encourage the economic development of developing countries. In 1987, South Korea’s foreign aid totaled $25 million. Contributions steadily increased, with yearly percentage increases ranging from 30% to 79% in the next 20 years. It continues to flourish and thrive as an emerging significant country in global aid.

South Korea and the OECD

South Korea became a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) prestigious Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in 2010. The OECD is an international group of the biggest providers of assistance towards developing countries and the DAC is a forum to discuss issues of international aid focused on inclusive and sustainable growth.

In 2011, one year after becoming a member of DAC, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak stated that South Korea intends to give more aid to the world than what it has ever taken. To exemplify this promise, in 2015, Korea partnered with USAID to commit $5 million to the Ethiopian government to encourage its efforts to mitigate child and maternal death there. It mainly focused on heightening the numbers of healthy mothers and successful births, giving more access to application and acceptance of family planning, and increasing healthy birth rates.

South Korea also pledged in July 2020 to give $4 million in humanitarian assistance to countries in East Africa that experienced locust swarms, resulting in food crises for over 25 million people. The World Bank recommended that social and productive safety-net programs – a subset of social protection mechanisms – be instilled to bolster food and nutrition security. Safety nets include cash, social pensions, public works and school meal programs.

South Korea’s growth in foreign aid increased significantly after the county adopted democracy, and it became a member of the OECD. It is stepping forward as a global leader in delivering foreign assistance, as proven by its inclusion into the DAC. It is combating issues such as maternal deaths in Ethiopia and food scarcity in the East African region due to food scarcity caused by locusts.

– Madeline Drayna
Photo: Unsplash

Philanthropy in South KoreaThe Republic of South Korea carries one of the most uplifting stories of increased education and economic improvement. South Korea faces poverty among the elderly and an education gap between the rich and poor. Despite that, the country has launched effective policies for poverty reduction. These efforts expand beyond the scope of just South Korea. This article will cover advancements in national poverty reduction. It will focus on South Korea’s global poverty reduction and philanthropy efforts through organizations such as World Friends Korea and the Korean International Cooperation Agency.

Poverty in South Korea

South Korea has evolved tremendously in terms of poverty reduction and economic improvement. In 1945, around the end of the Japanese colonization, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world. In the 1950s, after the Korean war, 80% of the urban population was below the poverty line. Today, South Korea’s literacy rate is 96% and its poverty rate is close to 14%. This decrease in poverty and illiteracy is largely due to extensive education policies and NGOs within Korea.

The Beautiful Foundation

In the late 1980s, democracy consolidated in South Korea. Various NGOs promoted humanitarian principles and rights, create a flow of social-political interactions and offer a voice to citizens. In 2002, estimates determined that there were 60,000 nonprofits in South Korea. While many international NGOs such as UNICEF, the Red Cross, UNDP and Planned Parenthood have had chapters and projects in South Korea, there are plenty of organizations in the nonprofit sector native to Korea. Established in 1999, Beautiful Foundation is one of the largest Korean nonprofits.

The Beautiful Foundation dedicates itself to creating an impartial society where people practice sharing by spreading wealth across society. The organization has had a great influence on philanthropy in South Korea. The 1% Sharing initiative, for example, encourages all Koreans to contribute 1% of their salary or income to any campaign or cause they believe in. These contributions are even open to individuals that do not live in Korea. The Beautiful Foundation has used these donations for disaster relief, child hunger and even social issues.

Philanthropy within Corporate Korea

South Korean corporations represent almost 40% of Korean philanthropy while the remaining 60% comes from individuals’ charity. Korean corporations such as Samsung have used social media to promote and inspire others to give through online sites. Samsung has also launched campaigns such as Samsung Hope for Children which helps children access education and medical treatment through donations of products and financial assistance.

Hyundai, another large corporation in South Korea, has launched campaigns such as the Hope on Wheels program, which helps children with cancer. Since it began its philanthropic efforts, Hyundai has given $72 million to pediatric research.

Government Role in NGOs and Philanthropy

Although these organizations are non-governmental, the government still plays a significant role. Most NGOs receive government grants. Additionally, certain government factions or ministries, such as the Korean Department of Health and Welfare, host annual conferences to bring organization leaders, government officials, corporate workers and academic scholars to discuss further development and new philanthropic strategies and ideas.

Many NGOs are also policy-oriented and must meet with government officials to achieve their goals. NGOs can campaign for a range of socio-economic issues such as income disparity and economic inequality. For instance, the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ), which is the oldest NGO in Korean history to address social welfare issues, persuaded the Korean administration in the 1990s to change housing eviction policies. It also lobbied for the construction of more homes which the government agreed to.

South Korea Gives Back to the World

South Korea has evolved from a country receiving international aid, to a flourishing economy ready to give back. The country is the world’s 12th largest economy and began its international philanthropy in the 1990s. The Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), established in 1991, distributes aid to promote economic and social development in poorer countries. Worlds Friends Korea, which is similar to the U.S. Peace Corps, has worked with KOICA to reduce poverty and provide opportunities for growth. Since 1990, World Friends Korea has sent around 50,000 volunteers and has been active in 96 countries.

South Korea has also been involved in security and reconstruction efforts in developing countries such as Afghanistan. In 2010, the Korean Province Reconstruction Team (PRT) worked to strengthen local governments, administrative competence and productivity, as well as provide support for agriculture, education and medical services in the Parwan Province.

South Korea pulled itself out of poverty through strict education policies, massive technological and economic advancements and an abundance of support from NGOs. After seeing poverty worldwide, the people of Korea honed in on the values of sharing and the long tradition of giving. South Korean philanthropy was born out of “self-actualization” and the desire to accept and help others. From giving to its own people to giving worldwide, from corporate philanthropy and NGOs to government-oriented organizations, South Korea has truly encompassed philanthropy.

– Nada Abuasi
Photo: Unsplash

KPOP
BTS, also known as Bangtan Boys, is a Korean boy band consisting of 7 members. Their style of music, popularly known as KPOP, or Korean Pop music has taken off. Debuting in 2013, BTS immediately gained a faithful and dedicated fanbase that they call ARMY. As BTS grew in popularity, their acts of charity became more frequent. With their popularity and influence,  ARMY soon followed in the KPOP group’s philanthropic footsteps.

Hope Delivery Food Bank

In South Korea, nearly 50% of the elderly population is living in poverty. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that in 2015, 45.7% of South Koreans over the age of 65 lived in poverty. There is also a large number of children lacking necessities. Poverty and Social Exclusion reported that 13.5% of children in South Korea are living in poverty. To combat these numbers and give back to the community, BTS teamed up with Hope Delivery — a program under Love Food Bank that works to help the elderly and children in poverty by delivering food for them.

Jimin’s Busan School Donation

In April 2019, it was revealed that Jimin, a member of BTS, made a large donation to Busan’s office of education. Notably, the donation of 100 million won equates to about $84,000. Jimin has also made other generous donations. For example, he also donated to his alma mater, Busan High School of Arts, in February 2020. With his donation, he was able to provide 1,200 students with new desks and chairs.

Jin’s UNICEF Honors Club

In 2019, it was announced by UNICEF Korea that Jin became a member of UNICEF Honors Club. Jin had become a member by donating more than 100 million won. He had begun secretly donating in May 2018 and revealed he became a member of the UNICEF Honors Club to encourage others to follow in his footsteps.

Suga’s Hope Bridge Korea Disaster Relief Association

To fight the spread of COVID-19, Suga decided to donate 100 million won to the Hope Bridge Korea Disaster Relief Association. Suga initiated this donation after the cancellation of BTS’s tour, Map of the Soul. Many fans and would-be concert goers drew inspiration from Suga’s donation and followed suit. The outpour of donations from ARMY accumulated about 400 million won over a weekend in March 2020. Fans’ total donation amount may be much higher since not every donation went under BTS or ARMY.

J-Hope’s ChildFund Korea’s Green Noble Club

During August 2020, it was revealed that J-Hope, a member of ChildFund Korea’s Green Noble Club, donated 100 million won. The donation helped vulnerable children, especially those who are facing financial insecurities due to COVID-19. McKinsey & Company conducted a report revolving around the financial impact of COVID-19 on Asian countries. When focusing on the decrease in income in households, the report reveals that South Koreans have great concern. With this level of concern, J-Hope’s donation is likely to alleviate the stress among households.

ARMY Singapore Foodbank Charity

In honor of BTS’s 6th anniversary, fans have come together to do acts of charity. A Twitter handle by the name @btsborahaeteam had revealed on March 6, 2019, that a donation project has been formed. The purpose of the donation was to raise funds through Food Bank SG and distribute it to different charities and food kitchens in Singapore. On June 7, 2019, the fundraiser came to an end and more than $2,000 was raised. With the money raised, people put together 136 bundles of food and distributed it in Bedok North. In the name of KPOP and BTS, ARMY has come together and made a significant, financial impact.

Ashleigh Jimenez
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in South Korea
Historically, women’s rights in South Korea have had limitations and have handicapped the country’s progression. In all realms of society – socially, politically, economically and culturally – women have ranked lower and had fewer rights than their male counterparts. However, there are significant advancements in improving the status of women in South Korea. Specifically, efforts in closing the country’s gender gap could allow for the economy to flourish, and in return, lower overall poverty rates.

Gender Inequality in South Korea

Traditionally, South Korea previously used Confucianism to rule its moral codes and societal structure. For women, these codes determined that they should be obedient to the men in their lives – fathers, husbands and sons. Until the 21st century, men had the title of the head of the household for their families, which reinforced the deep inequality between South Korean men and women. For women, the continuation of familial lines was the primary societal expectation. These historical-cultural expectations set precedence regarding women’s rights in South Korea in modern times.

In 2005, South Korea’s Constitutional Court made the decision to officially retire the tradition of “hoju,” which placed the man at the head of the household. The abolishment of this system had intentions of uplifting South Korean women by improving their daily lives and shows the country heading towards a more inclusive society. In modern-day South Korea, men and women now have equal rights, and furthermore, female employment rates have risen to over 52% since 2018. These significant improvements in women’s rights in South Korea have the potential to create a future with a flourishing economy.

Despite best efforts, South Korea still continues to rank towards the bottom for economic opportunities for women. South Korea ranks at 115 for the country’s economic gender gap, ranks at 124 for economic participation and female opportunity and has the largest pay gap among OECD countries. In addition, South Korean’s working population has started declining and expectations have determined that birthrates will begin to decrease by 2028. A simple, straightforward solution to these issues would be a higher integration of women in the workplace. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), an increase in female labor would also increase South Korea’s GDP by 7%, a substantial amount. So, the question is, what is South Korea doing to support female involvement in the workplace?

Solutions

In a 2015 interview, Kim Hee-Jung, the minister of gender equality and family, discussed the ways South Korea is attempting to close its gender gap. Kim Hee-Jung first corrected a common misconception that people have in regard to increasing women’s opportunities by stating an increase in opportunities for women does not decrease men’s opportunities. She proved her point by stating that “the statistics show that in OECD countries with high rates of female economic participation, birthrates and economic growth rates tend also to be higher.” Furthermore, there are policies to aid in creating a sustainable work-life balance for both South Korean men and women. For example, the government initiated the “two-track support for paternity leave,” where men will receive their entire month’s salary if they decide to take paternity leave after their wives have. Kim Hee-Jung ended the interview on a promising note for the future of female power in South Korea’s economy.

Overall, women’s rights in South Korea have greatly improved in this past century. Although South Korea began by placing social expectations and limitations on its women, it has made great efforts in changing these traditional roles. For the South Korean economy to truly thrive, others must continue to recognize and reduce inequality in the workplace. With this acknowledgment, South Korea has the ability to uplift its women in order to enhance its entire economy.

– Bolorzul Dorjsuren
Photo: Flickr

Education in South Korea
After the Korean War, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world with a GDP per capita of $79. Today, it is home to many innovative technology companies and has a GDP of $1.619 trillion. This massive progress is largely due to the high standards of education in South Korea. With a strong cultural emphasis on education, the country was able to develop a flourishing economy and facilitate poverty reduction.

The Principles of Education

Education has always been important for Koreans. In the 18th century Korea, neo-Confucianist ideals and a stringent class system framed the Korean social order. Many considered education essential to slowly eliminate social stratification and offer equal opportunities. In fact, King Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty, created the Korean alphabet Hangul for that specific purpose. He wanted all of his people to be able to read and write, not just those of higher social class.

During the Japanese colonization of Korea, which lasted from 1910 until 1945, Japanese became the official language and Hangul was completely banned. Despite Japan’s imposed restraints on potential educational opportunities for Koreans during this time, the desire for education persisted. It was so tremendous that after Korea gained independence, the Korean people overwhelmingly demanded more opportunities for education. It evolved into a standard of economic and social mobility, or the fairest way to move up the socio-economic ladder. The industrialization process began through this principle, subsequently making education essential for employment.

South Korea’s Rise to the Top

In 1945, around the end of Japanese colonization, South Korea’s literacy rate was 22%, among the lowest in the world. To eradicate illiteracy, South Korea launched campaigns that aimed to educate those who did not have primary education. Additionally, in the 1950s, the government made elementary school obligatory by law. As a result, South Korea’s literacy rate rose to 96% by 1958.

The policies used to increase literacy rates also contributed to the rise in post-secondary education. South Korea ranks as the number one most educated country, where almost 70% of individuals between the ages of 25 and 34 have completed college, university or any other form of higher education.

Along with education in South Korea, the country’s economy transformed tremendously. Many consider South Korea’s economy to the most innovative economy regarding technology and has ranked number one in innovation for several years, raising its GDP to $1.619 trillion. Its ratio of research and development program spending to GDP is the highest in the world. South Korea has one of the most intricate and interconnected economies, leading in exports of information and communications technology as well as automobiles. It is also the first country to introduce 5G internet services for mobile carriers.

Education, Labor and Technology

The South Korean government believed that economic development on a national scale required high learning abilities and cognitive skills. By investing in education, students would develop skills and knowledge that would help in becoming excellent workers. The economy then flourishes and begins to invest back into education. The government also made sure to provide vocational or technical training which, alongside education in South Korea, has contributed to the low unemployment of 3.7%.

The emphasis on education in South Korea extends beyond national economic improvement. Technological companies such as Samsung encourage corporate-academic collaborations with universities like Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejeon where they collaborate on research in electrochemistry and the development of new energy sources. Samsung has also provided technology to classrooms in an attempt to reduce the education gap.

Reduction of Poverty

The international community has long-since known that education alleviates poverty. There is a strong correlation between education, economic empowerment and low unemployment. Education helps economies grow and infrastructures develop. In South Korea, it was government policy that made education the biggest portion of the budget, next to defense. Government policy also used land reform to boost education. Land reform redistributed land which significantly reduced land ownership inequality. It thereby changed social policy, reduced poverty and aided in bringing educational levels to an all-time high. Rural populations with higher levels of education in South Korea produced a large workforce of well-educated individuals that served as a catalyst for industrialization and reduction of poverty. Today, although South Korea still battles poverty and an education gap between the rich and the poor, the country and its economy have greatly transformed since 1945.

Nada Abuasi
Photo: Unsplash

Elderly Poverty in South Korea

While South Korea is home to great technological developments and world-famous rising trends, it also has one of the highest numbers of impoverished elderly in a single developed country. Around half of the senior citizens are living in poverty with little to no support from relatives or the government. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, consists of over 30 countries that work with one another to encourage economic development. Unfortunately, despite all the economic progress it has made, South Korea has the highest elderly poverty rate of all OECD countries.

How Elderly Poverty in South Korea Came to Be

In the 1970s, a financial crisis hit South Korea that caused around 2 million people to be unemployed, many of these workers being senior citizens today. When the country began building its economy back up, many companies decided to replace the older generation of workers with younger ones. While the younger workers did not cost as much, the newly jobless population was left with no other choice but to retire earlier than expected.

In the present day, the now elderly population who was affected by the financial crisis have to support themselves by working non-conventional jobs. These jobs include picking trash off the street, cleaning or in the most extreme cases, elderly prostitution. Since this way of living is detrimental to the mental wellbeing of the older population, senior suicide rates have risen over time. Just three years ago, for senior citizens around 70 years old, nearly 50 people out of 100,000 committed suicide. For senior citizens around 80 years old, that number went up to 70 people per 100,000.

South Korea’s Welfare Programs

  • Comprehensive Welfare Program: In 2012, South Korea began the Comprehensive Welfare Program to benefit the impoverished elderly population. Senior citizens who are physically compromised were given assistance in everyday routines, such as housework or laundry. Meals are provided at senior citizen dining halls and even delivered for those who cannot make it to a meal service location. Social service and activity programs were implemented as well, which helps boost the mood of the elderly who would not have otherwise gotten a form of entertainment anywhere else.
  • Community Care Program: In 2019, South Korea announced the Community Care Program to aid senior citizens as well as other vulnerable groups. This program is spread all throughout South Korea, with application booths in plenty of local areas. Similar to the Comprehensive Welfare Program, the Community Care Program also provides in-home care services for physically compromised seniors, as well as food deliveries. This program also provides public housing and elderly daycare for those in need of special assistance and care. Additionally, 12 million won (nearly $12,000) will be provided as subsidies for senior citizens who continue to reside in the Community Care Program.

Creating Jobs for Seniors

In late 2019, South Korea’s employment rate continued to grow over 300,000 new jobs every month. Employment in late 2019 was around 27.5 million jobs, which is over 330,000 more jobs from the previous year. This hiring growth was because of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s plans to increase senior jobs using the over 1.5 trillion won (nearly $1.5 billion) from their budget. Those who were out of a job previously were able to get a chance at improving their lives and livelihoods through becoming employed again.

– Karina Wong
Photo: Needpix

Higher Education

South Korea has some of the highest education rates out of all the nations in the developed world; however, the distortion in their public higher education system has created a massive trap in unemployment for many young South Koreans straight out of college. Over the past three years, the South Korean government has made vital reforms to extend and deepen its teachings in higher education. This way, university students can reap all the benefits of their education, attaining financial and mental stability.

The Moon Administration

South Korea’s occupational and economic market is ruled with an iron fist by families and partners of chaebol — gigantic oliguric companies and corporations who use complete nepotistic bias when employing young South Koreans, holding grotesque control over both financial and political sectors of their society. In May of 2017, President Moon Jae-in was elected into power. He promised South Koreans that the corruption the chaebol had caused in their society was to be renounced, diminished and abandoned, leading the way for South Korea to be more equal and equitable in employment and social politics.

Moon knew the most effective way to bring a major change in the job market was to make adjustments to the higher education system to decrease favoritism and competition between universities and employers. One form of action Moon pushed was “blind hiring,” or limiting the amount of information employers could request concerning an individual’s university ranking and GPA in their initial application. This would decrease the amount of profiling and preference which has been rooted in the South Korean occupational world.

SKY Universities

More than 80% of higher education institutions in South Korea are privately owned and have rigorous admissions, requiring students to pass a test that most individuals can pass only with a professional tutor or prior private specialty science and mathematics schooling. The three most prestigious universities in South Korea, known as SKY, are Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University. These schools are the only noted educational institutions for chaebol employers. This makes it extremely difficult for individuals from low-income homes to ever attain such professions because they don’t have the funds for a private tutor or prior elite schooling to be admitted to a SKY university.

In attempts to have a more socioeconomic diverse population of students at SKY universities, in 2018, the Moon administration ordered the SKY universities to make their admissions testing far less extensive and detailed to increase the number of applicants who would be able to pass the entry exam. The current government administration also put limitations on the number of students the SKY universities could accept so that more public universities in South Korea could build their reputations on the job market. Both of the SKY initiatives placed by Moon were very innovative in disassembling the distorted educational promises of South Korean society.

Elimination of Elite Education

The Moon administration has aimed to eliminate all elite high schools to equalize the kind of education that young South Koreans are receiving, creating a more fair college admissions process by 2025. Thirteen universities in Seoul that had more than 25% of students from elite secondary schools were evaluated to examine their admissions systems level of integrity by being impartial when admitting students.

How Education Will Repair the Job Market

President Moon has made a tremendous effort by being the first political leader to go against the ancient, corrupt societal standards in employment and hiring practices. By placing more regulations on the educational private sector, both the political and social sectors will begin to be dismantled as well, creating even more building blocks for young South Koreans to move up the socioeconomic ladder. With the inequality of private educational institutions becoming more publicized through governmental action, a more secure and bright future is developing for the classist poverty trap of South Korea.

– Nicolettea Rose Daskaloudi
Photo: Flickr