By Lee Hyo-sik
Advancing multiculturalism will dominate the Korean society in 2010, along with five other social, economic and cultural changes ― possible social conflict between the haves and have-nots, improvement in the quality of employment, normalization of public education, emergence of leisure activities and the establishment of green living.
The Samsung Economic Research Institute (SERI) reported Thursday that "the number of foreign residents in Korea exceeded one million in 2009, growing 20 to 30 percent annually over the past few years. The figure is expected to surpass 1.3 million in 2010. Particularly, the number of foreign students and employees of global companies are growing rapidly. If the current trend continues, Korea will see considerable qualitative changes in the socio-demographic structure of expatriates," SERI research fellow Lee Kap-soo said.
Lee said the year 2010 is considered particularly important in that the children of multicultural families will enroll in the formal education system. "This is related to a rising incidence of Korean men marrying foreign brides, a trend which began to surge in 2003. This new social development is predicted to pressure both governments and public institutions to accommodate them better through policy changes," Lee said.
He then raised the possibility that social conflict between the rich and the poor could occur as a result of the ongoing economic downturn. "Even though the Korean economy entered a recovery phase in the second half of 2009, the so-called 'economically vulnerable,' those who are self-employed and workers in small-scale manufacturing, are still feeling the pinch. Their unstable employment status and feeling of hopelessness may lead to social disorder."
Additionally, various political events are slated for 2010, including local elections for heads of municipal governments and members of local councils, and a national election for lawmakers, SERI said, stressing that a potential political conflict could unfold in the upcoming events.
Improving the quality of employment here will be one of the important social and economic issues of 2010. "The government created temporary jobs in the public sector this year. This has served as a social safety net to some degree at a time when a social security system for the poor is not adequate. But the temporary work has failed to fundamentally improve the financial conditions of the less fortunate. In 2010, more attention will have to be paid to improving the quality of jobs," Lee said.
He then said to improve the conditions for temporary employees, the government should more actively foster cooperation between labor and management.
Boosting the quality of the public education system through competition and diversification is another key social issue for next year, with 25 independent private high schools and 12 independent public high schools set to be established nationwide.
"Also, a system in which middle school students are able to choose their high school will be implemented early next year, forcing schools to make more efforts to meet the needs of students and parents. As a result, competition among high schools to attract students will intensify," SERI said.
The emergence of leisure activities and green living will become prominent changes in Korea next year. "More people have and will seek to slow down and relax from a hectic urban life. For instance, Jeju Island's "Olleh Road," which is a trail that explores various landmarks of the tourist island, has received increasing attention," the institute said, adding the government will put greater priorities on building an extensive tourism infrastructure in 2010 to attract local and overseas tourists.
Additionally, with growing awareness of climate change and environmental degradation, green living will become an even hotter issue among Koreans next year.
"In 2010, there will be a dramatic transformation in lifestyle in general, affecting residential environments and consumption patterns. Being 'green' should be recognized as not only a helpful way to save the environment, but also an economically beneficial act. More people are expected to voluntarily participate in green living," SERI said.