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

Women's Empowerment in NamibiaSeveral law reforms were made in Namibia, post its independence in 1990, like abolishing discrimination on basis of gender, the Married Persons Equality Act granting equality to women in marriage, the Combating of Rape Act that outlaws marital rape, the Combating of Domestic Violence Act and the Maintenance Act.

To achieve women’s empowerment in Namibia, the Co-operatives Act was adopted which requires a substantial number of women to form cooperatives. The Employment Act, Communal Land Reforms Act and the Labour Act all favor women’s participation in the economic sphere. In addition, the government introduced the Build Together Programme to help single mothers. However, reforms in the area of reproductive rights for women have been slow and abortion is still illegal.

Notable gains have been made in increasing women’s representation in the national assembly up to 46 percent thanks to the South West Africa People’s Organization’s (SWAPO) “zebra list” system. The system indicates that if a minister is a woman then the deputy minister must be a man and vice versa. Another ambitious part of this system, for women’s empowerment in Namibia, is that the roles be switched in successive elections so that if a man is appointed president in one term then a woman should be appointed for the following.

In addition, Namibia is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), the CEDAW optional protocol (2000) and the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development (2005).

Yet, high levels of inequalities exist that can be seen in women’s economic dependency, in the high levels of violence against women and children and in the feminization of HIV and AIDS. The path to women’s empowerment in Namibia is still a long way off. Legal Equality has not transformed into structural equality. Women remain at the lowest level of employment and struggle with practical impediments that limit their economic independence and self-sufficiency.

Women’s access to land is also limited, in spite of the absence of legal barriers, due to continuing discriminatory practices and limited implementation and awareness of existing laws and rights.

For women’s empowerment in Namibia to become a reality, serious changes have to be made in society. UNICEF has recommended the following:

  • All stakeholders (Government, Private Sector, Educators, the Media, civil society groups, NGOs and churches) must work together to create an enabling environment in which gender stereotypes can be openly discussed, challenged and redressed.
  • Men need to be active participants in the process of achieving gender equality for Namibian women.
  • Educators of the next generations of Namibian society hold the key to social change.
  • The roles of women within traditional authority structures need to be examined and harmonized.
  • To address both gender-based violence and HIV prevention as well as many other social ills, alcohol abuse needs to be systematically addressed as an underlying cause.

– Tripti Sinha

Photo: Flickr

Rural Poverty in China

China is lifting thousands of farmers out of poverty with a new land reform policy. Farmers can now rent out their land to private companies, provided that it is still used for agriculture. This is the first time in more than 60 years that the Communist Party has enacted land reforms, effectively decreasing rural poverty in China.

In 2012, Sihong, a Chinese county of about one million people, implemented a pilot project to test the results of the new land reform policy. Then in November 2016, Beijing approved the enactment of the policy in the rest of the country.

Before the application of this policy, collective farming was one of the Communist Party’s main political devices. The land belonged to the state, and individual farmers would contract to use it without ever owning it. Now farmers can rent out their land-use rights, and sometimes they can even use the rights as collateral for loans. However, they still are prohibited from leasing the land rights to property developers and industrial enterprises, even though these would likely be more lucrative.

One national goal of this reform was to increase the country’s food production through control by large commercial agriculture companies. Another important goal was to limit Chinese reliance on imports, which more than tripled in the past ten years, reaching $110.6 billion last year.

This reform allows more farmers to participate in the economy as consumers. So far, almost 30 percent of China’s 230 million rural households have rented out their land through various pilot programs. Farmers represent 300 to 400 million people with more purchasing power who could significantly bolster the economy.

Furthermore, Chinese leaders are hopeful that this change may generate business investments in agriculture, a goal they have been pursuing for years. They hope to convince Chinese investors to redirect their funds away from real estate or investments abroad and back into Chinese agriculture.

These reforms also have an important social consequence. Namely, they are decreasing rural poverty in China.

China is the fourth largest country in the world and has over 1.3 billion people. In the past twenty years, China has experienced unparalleled economic growth, resulting in a significant decrease in poverty. However, not all groups benefited from this development.

A huge disparity exists between urban and rural incomes. The average urban household’s income per capita was ¥29,831, which is the equivalent of $4,500 per year. Meanwhile, rural households have a per capita income of only ¥9,892, or $4 a day.

Around 50 to 55 percent of the Chinese population lives in rural areas, and in these areas about two-thirds of people are farmers. Some of the factors keeping rural farmers in poverty include increasingly frequent natural calamities, poor community infrastructures and services, limited access to financial services and markets, outdated farming techniques and depleted natural resources.

The land policy reform has proven itself to be an effective solution to the problem of rural poverty in China. For example, one farmer in the Shiji township went from earning ¥10,000 a year growing rice to pocketing ¥8,000 just from renting his land and making an additional ¥60,000 annually in his store.

This policy aligns with President Xi Jinping’s pledge to reduce poverty. By decreasing poverty in rural China, the land policy reform demonstrates the positive social and economic impact that opening new markets in poor regions can have.

Lauren McBride

Photo: Flickr