A survey released last week showed foreigners regard Korea as a country with cutting-edge technology. In the Foreign Ministry-commissioned survey of about 6,000 citizens from 17 nations, most respondents said technology and Samsung, the leading mobile phone maker, were the words that first came to mind when thinking of Korea.
A recent report by the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Evaluation and Planning offered some data that backs up foreigners’ impression of the country as a high-tech industrial power. Korea’s research and development budget made up the highest percentage of gross domestic product among advanced nations in 2013, according to the report.
But many scientists and engineers here say the country cannot afford to be complacent, warning that efforts to boost science and technology to higher levels have been weakened, or even neglected, in recent years. Government policymakers need to pay heed to their concerns.
With welfare expenditure increasing amid a widening shortage of tax revenue, the budget for governmental R&D projects has increased at a slowing pace. The rate of increase has continued to decelerate from 11 percent in 2010 to 7.6 percent in 2012 and 3.4 percent this year. Top priority should be put on further boosting R&D spending to sharpen the country’s competitive edge.
The draft plan for restructuring high school curriculum, which would reduce the proportion of science-related subjects to 10.8 percent from 15.1 percent in 2009, needs to be redrawn. It was a move in the right direction for the government to recently decide to introduce required computer programming courses in middle school next year and elementary school in 2017. But ensuring success will require thorough preparations, including nurturing competent teachers and developing good teaching materials.
It may be necessary to reestablish an independent ministry in charge of science and technology to serve as an effective control tower for coordinating related policies.
In the knowledge-based society of the 21st century, the importance of science and technology as a core base of national capabilities is growing. The effort to develop science and technology has been a key factor behind the country’s rapid industrialization over the past decades. It is time to accelerate, not ease, this endeavor in order to advance the nation further. The spread of scientific thinking and technological awareness among ordinary people would also help make accident-prone Korean society safer and more secure.