Press Release

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Dr. Chihmao Hsieh’s contribution to the Maeil Business Newspaper

Press Releaseㅣ2021-11-12 11:08

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How can forthcoming changes in Korean educational policy serve a meaningful worklife?

Written by two authors:

Chihmao Hsieh, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship, SUNY Korea

Karl Wennberg, Professor of Education and Entrepreneurship, Stockholm School of Economics


    Education has been a focus in policy-making recently, as experts have called for a shift in the educational system amid forthcoming demographic changes and the “fourth industrial revolution”.  This past summer, the Education Committee of Korea’s National Assembly approved a bill to install a new body tentatively called the ‘National Education Commission’ (국가교육위원회).  The commission, scheduled to be launched next year, would be responsible for taking the lead in establishing a non-partisan long-term educational policy, while the Ministry of Education would carry out the policy’s goals and make any short-term administrative adjustments.

    Although education in Korea is culturally tied to anticipated job security and life satisfaction, this renewed focus on Korean education comes at a time when job satisfaction in Korea remains dubious.  Between July-October 2020, the JoongAng Ilbo and Teamblind interviewed roughly 72,109 office workers from 9,371 local companies about their work, asking them about their welfare benefits, relationships with colleagues, trust among team members, and work autonomy.  Seven out of ten workers in Korea suffered burnout over the preceding one-year period.  While it is unsurprising that Korea still has one of the lowest worker productivities among the G20 countries, the data revealed that the two most important factors directly linked to the level of job satisfaction were the meaningfulness of work and the quality of relationships with bosses.

    We believe that any major educational reform should be designed this time for the long-run purpose of fostering job satisfaction.  Ideally the government panel mentioned above will include businesspeople who respect education, alongside educators that respect organizational ‘best practices’ and the economy.  Yet we still envision some tactics for educational reform that can support future job satisfaction in Korea. In order to develop a workforce that is more innovative and passionate for re-learning throughout working life, more effort should be put into combining critical thinking with transdisciplinary education.  Such a prescription opens the door for unstructured problem-solving, and unfortunately, that’s when student performance assessment starts to become prohibitively subjective by Korean standards.  One possible solution is to enlist high-tech companies with their expertise in Big Data and AI to help with assessment.  For years, the ‘EdTech’ industry has worked on digital tools that assess knowledge, and these systems are not easy for students to ‘game’ and cheat on.  Most importantly, these high-tech companies and educational providers must convince students’ parents that their assessment systems are legitimate.

    Even today, the meaningfulness of learning via concept acquisition is still emphasized less than rote memorization and standardized test taking.  There could be more interaction between EdTech companies and parts of the educational system, designed to address students’ and parents’ potential concern. For example, some of our Swedish university students created a startup called ‘Sqore’ which was briefly the largest in the world for holding student talent competitions, later pivoting into an assessment/student selection service for graduate school programs and companies. Those organizations contracted with Sqore because they saw problem-solving competitions as a good way not only to assess “soft” skills like creativity and interdisciplinarity, but also as a way to market their company in recruiting the most talented students.

    Korea’s conglomerates could be enlisted to create more problem-solving competitions where winners are awarded with month-long or summer internships. Many large US-based companies as well as NASA have successfully used such ‘innovation competitions’ to attract talented and interested new employees. Such initiatives would send strong messages to both students and parents alike that grades should not be the sole obsession, and that the business world cares about critical and innovative thinking at all decision-making levels. Ideally, such competitions should focus less on narrowly specifying ‘ideal solutions’ or deliverables involving intellectual property, and more about assessing complementary measures of ability (e.g. creativity, interdisciplinary thinking, and communication skills). 

    Lastly, students should be exposed to greater amounts of teamwork at all levels of Korean education, instead of excessive competition and rivalry. Transdisciplinary education ideally should involve combining instructors and students from multiple disciplines into a single classroom environment, and forming teams. Students are then exposed to teamwork environments which include unfamiliar situations, requiring them to develop curiosity.  They would also learn about trust and trustworthiness, which are important for effective collaboration and team innovativeness. Of course, team-teaching is risky in Korean education if the instructors end up antagonizing each other’s authority in front of students during class. Teachers should instead take the opportunity to enhance their own learning and building interpersonal trust when interacting with each other. It is here where an instructor’s humility can be promoted to impress students.

    Certainly, there is no single ‘silver bullet’ for simultaneously improving student outcomes and job satisfaction in Korea.  But we see these two as correlated objectives.  Improving the educational system to allow for reputable AI-driven assessment solutions; showing parents and students that businesses care about critical thinking skill over test scores; and introducing transdisciplinary teamwork to students, can all naturally lead to a more meaningful, entrepreneurial, dynamic, and exciting career development experiences. Perhaps these three tactics could even be combined synergistically; for example, Korean EdTech companies could host transdisciplinary problem-solving team competitions. Overall, shouldn’t the focus be less about educational and training policy, and more about a broader learning policy?


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