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Educational Inequality in South Korea
Despite 70 years of impressive economic and educational development in South Korea, low-income households are struggling to close the achievement gap resulting from the income gap. Past educational inequality in South Korea persists today as low-income adults invest disproportionately in hopes their children will achieve academic and economic success.

Education and Poverty

In 2018, the Organization Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a working report on child poverty in South Korea. One positive finding is that only 7% of children live at or below the poverty line in Korea in comparison with the 13% average among OECD countries. A strong labor market and a steady decrease in birth rates both contributed to a drop in child poverty.

This report highlights education’s role in children’s standard of living regarding two key identifiable risk factors:

  • Cost of Education
  • Parental Education and Employment

Other factors such as rising rent prices also burden families. However, parental education has had a noticeable impact on a household’s income potential and how burdensome a household might find all expenditures, including the significant cost of children’s education.

The Cost of Cramming Schools

South Korean households pay about 42% of the costs of primary and secondary school education for their children compared with the 22% average among other OECD countries. These expenses include traditional fees and costs for supplies and afterschool activities.

Nearly 68% of students attend hagwons, otherwise known as cramming schools, which are private schools that children attend outside of their usual classes for an average of 4.6 hours per week. Cramming schools provide additional instruction on top of regular school hours in order to prepare students for competitive entrance exams. The more hours a child spends in those schools, the more money their families have to spend. An estimated 16.5% of poor households overspend on hagwons, investing around 30% of their income as opposed to the 5% average among higher-income households. These cramming schools demonstrate how parental employment impacts educational inequality in South Korea.

The Value of Parents’ Education

While South Korean employment rates line up with other OECD countries, the nature of employment is important. Having a parent in non-regular employment is a risk factor for child poverty and, indirectly, educational inequality in South Korea. Non-regular workers are subject to inconsistent or short-term employment with poorer conditions and pay. These workers make up one-third of the South Korean workforce and many possess a secondary education level or lower.

It is also notable that a growing number of highly educated people hold non-regular employment in South Korea. While non-regular workers make up a third of the labor force in South Korea, a third of those workers have completed tertiary education. However, this is due to competition for well-paid, regular work, and households with a highly educated head still tend to be better off than less educated households. Thus, attaining a higher education level remains desirable.

Dr. Soo-Yong Byun and Dr. Kyung-Keun Kim provide a greater context in their 2010 study, “Educational inequality in South Korea: The widening socioeconomic gap in student achievement.” Byun and Kim examined how a household’s socioeconomic status affected eighth-grade academic achievement. They determined that, regarding secondary education, parents’ socioeconomic status indirectly impacted their children’s achievement through how much money they could spend on hagwons.

Lower-income students unable to extensively attend hagwons, among other opportunities, might then experience a disadvantage in competitive exams determining which schools they might attend. Various cities and regions have implemented policies to equalize primary and secondary education, more evenly distributing lower-income students throughout higher quality public and private schools. However, this policy does not apply to all of South Korea or account for university entrance exams. This means children’s future socioeconomic achievement may be at risk due to their parents’ education and employment statuses.

Cutting Families a Break

The South Korean government recognizes the educational inequality that low-income families face and employs additional programs to address the issue. The National Center on Education and the Economy outlines some programs assisting low-income households regarding educational inequality in South Korea. Such programs comprise:

  • Free childcare for all children aged 3 to 5 years old
  • Vouchers for after-school activity fees for primary and secondary-aged students
  • Child Development Accounts in which the government will match the family’s contributions and alleviate future university or vocational school expenses
  • Incentives for teachers to work in schools with higher proportions of low-income students

Looking Ahead

South Korea continues to expand and experiment with its education and social policies in hopes of mitigating burdens on low-income households. Education already helped lift generations of South Koreans out of poverty. The government and families are investing in education and its equalization in hopes of lifting up thousands more.

– Mckenzie Howell
Photo: Flickr

What is Global Fragility

Global fragility is a compelling global phenomenon. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has defined it as, “the combination of exposure to risk and insufficient coping capacity of the state, system and/or communities to manage, absorb or mitigate those risks. Fragility can lead to negative outcomes including violence, the breakdown of institutions, displacement, humanitarian crises or other emergencies.”

The 2030 Agenda

Rising global challenges such as climate change, global inequality, the development of new technologies and illegal financial flows, are all aggravating global fragility. Now more than ever before, these challenges most severely affect low and middle-income countries. Global fragility is a pressing issue as poverty is increasingly present in fragile areas and those affected by conflict. It is estimated that by 2030, as much as 80 percent of the world’s extreme poor will be living in fragile areas, becoming both a threat to global security and a prominent barrier to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

Within the 2030 Agenda, SDG 16 outlines achieving peaceful, just and equitable societies. Additionally, this SDG emphasizes the importance of sustaining peace and conflict prevention. Peace and conflict prevention are not achievable with increasing global fragility risks and inefficient responses. Indeed, 2016 was the year affected the most by violence and conflict in the past 30 years, killing 560,000 people and displacing the highest number of people in the world since World War II. Moreover, countries that are part of the 2030 development agenda all committed to leaving no-one behind, stressing the need to address fragile areas.

Addressing Global Fragility

Taking into account the elements mentioned above and the existing consensus on the matter, it is fundamental for countries and international organizations to address global fragility and take action by joining efforts. International institutions faced some blame for inadequate performance in fragile states. Recently, efforts began focusing on developing frameworks and tools to address fragility more efficiently. At the core of the solution to global fragility lies resilience. Additionally, this comprises of assisting states to build the capacity to deal with fragility risks and stabilize the country.

For example, the World Bank launched the Humanitarian Development Peace Initiative (HDPI) in partnership with the U.N. to develop new strategies to assist fragile countries. Under this initiative, the U.N. and World Bank will collaborate through data sharing, joint frameworks and analysis, etc. Additionally, the European Commission changed the way it approaches fragility, now concentrating more on the strengths of fragile states rather than their weakness, to assist them in resilience building and empowering them to do so.

All these efforts revolve around a set of core principles, stemming from lessons learned from the past. These mainly include empowering local governments and helping them escape the fragility trap. Another principle revolves around achievements in the long-term. Long-term achievements will ensure sustainability, as transforming deep-rooted governance takes time for effective implementation. Inclusive peace processes prioritizing the security of citizens, along with inclusive politics, are essential in the transformation of fragile states.

The Global Fragility Act

On December 20, the Global Fragility Act was passed as a part of the United States’ FY 2020 foreign affairs spending package, to address fragility more effectively. The Act emphasizes interagency coordination regarding development, security and democracy. In addition, the Act also highlights a more efficient alignment of multilateral and international organizations. As the first comprehensive, whole-of-government approach established by the United States, the efforts plan to prevent global conflict and instability.

The numerous actions and initiatives launched recently illustrate a significant step forward in addressing the threat of fragility. The common consensus between donor countries, multilateral and international institutions must now be translated into concrete actions.

Andrea Duleux
Photo: Flickr