The Korea Herald is publishing a series of articles scrutinizing key aspects and sectors related to the creative economy the Park Geun-hye government is promoting as a national agenda. The series will feature interviews with top government officials and IT gurus, and strategies to embody the policy. The special articles were made in cooperation with the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. This is the sixth installment of the creative economy series. ― Ed.
Just two decades ago, schools here advised all students to learn computer programming code such as Basic or Logo using 8-bit or 16-bit computers.
Today, school curriculum focuses on simply teaching young people how to best surf the Web and use software such as PowerPoint with smart devices, rather than how to write code and design computer programs.
But this is changing. The Korean government plans to revamp current computer lessons in public schools to bring back teaching of computer coding.
“Software is the language of the 21st century,” said Yoon Jong-rok, vice minister of Science, ICT and Future Planning.
“If we make efforts to mold children who are crazy about games into game developers, we will be able to produce creative and talented people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs,” he told the participants of the ministry’s junior software contest last month.
|Students participate in a lesson at the Infinite Idea lab at the National Science Museum in Daejeon on Aug. 28. (KOFAC)|
To increase students’ understanding of and interest in software, the ministry is planning to hold a regular “software creative camp” in after-school programs. It will also introduce more IT-related classes and build more high schools dedicated to producing tech experts.
Boosting computer programming in public education is part of a national campaign to foster a “creative economy.”
“We need a creative economy based on the knowledge and information-based economy for Korea’s mid- to long-term growth,” President Park Geun-hye said in April.
Park, an engineering major, has been underlining the importance of producing “innovative technology and creative ideas” to move the country to the next level.
She acknowledged that the country’s economy had reached the limits of its “catch-up type strategy,” which has driven economic growth for more than four decades.
The government is now working to switch the economic paradigm as the global economy is moving away from a labor and capital-based to a knowledge- and information-based economy. But, the current education system is not conducive to fostering creative talent, it admits.
“Schools still focus only on equipping students with the ability to survive the cutthroat college entrance competition. Companies still consider one’s academic background over their ability, so creative and critical thinking skills are neglected,” read a statement released by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning and Ministry of Employment and Labor.
The three ministries announced a set of draft plans to nurture creative talent, which, Park states, is a key to the economic paradigm shift.
Among the detailed plans, the government will strengthen software education in public schools by introducing a free-online learning platform. It also plans to nurture more than 5,000 Internet security experts by setting up more IT classes and establishing a high school specialized in computer programming.
For the development of science and technology convergence with other industrial sectors, the Ministry of Education will encourage colleges to provide students access to a broad range of subjects outside of their majors through convergence classes and departments.
To promote the science and technology development, the government will invest 92 trillion won ($79 billion) in science technology research and development activities by 2017.
The government is also set to make a big push next year to train young entrepreneurs and expand start-up infrastructure at colleges.
For this, the Ministry of Education aims to raise the number of colleges offering entrepreneurship classes from the current 133 schools to 217 by 2017.
President Park stressed that promoting innovative start-ups that can develop and discover new technology with simple ideas, emulating the young entrepreneurial spirit commonly seen in the U.S.’ Silicon Valley, can boost employment and bring highly skilled jobs to the country.
Experts say, however, that the vision may be difficult to accomplish as it calls for a complete overhaul of the educational system.
Secondary schools here overly focus on preparing students for the national college entrance examination with the traditional teaching method of rote learning still encouraged.
Government data showed nearly 7 out of 10 high school graduates go to college or university in Korea, the highest proportion among advanced countries.
But only 50 percent of college graduates were employed full-time in 2011, creating problems such as an overqualified workforce, shortages of skilled labor and mismatches between job seekers and businesses.
Young Koreans often avoid starting a company or working for small and medium-sized companies due to negative social perceptions, according to Chung Dae-yong, professor in the department of entrepreneurship and small business at Soongsil University.
“Students are less interested in starting up a business as they don’t like risk, and even if they show interest in a start-up, their family and friends try to dissuade them,” he told The Korea Herald.
The professor noted that the key to cultivating creative talents was to give students an opportunity to realize their creative potential.
“The government’s plans seem to focus on only hardware, such as building more schools, offering money, rather than software, to people. But a creative economy depends not on hardware, but software,” he added.
By Oh Kyu-wook (firstname.lastname@example.org)