Posted : 2008-05-28 16:54
Updated : 2008-05-28 16:54

Gabo Reforms Effect on English Education

Syngman Rhee, one of the well-known graduates of the Baejae (or Pai chai) Hakdang, who led the Korean Provisional Government, a Korean government in exile established in 1919.
By Kim Eun-gyong
Contributing Writer

This is the eighth in a series of articles about history of English education in Korea ― ED.

After the Japanese invasion of the Joseon Kingdom in July 1894, a pro-Japanese government was formed, and the cabinet created the Deliberative Council (Gunguk Gimucheo), a special reform organ with legislative powers.

The council introduced 208 reform laws during the five months of its existence. The reforms taken from the establishment of the Deliberative Council to February 1896, when Gojong escaped to the Russian legation, are referred to as the Gabo Reforms (reforms in the year of the horse, 1894). The reforms were far-reaching, covering Korea's politics, economy, and education.

Along with a reorganization of the government structure, drastic social reforms, such as the abolition of the class system, were introduced. The most extensive effects of the Reforms were observed in the area of education.

In 1894, the Deliberative Council announced the introduction of a modern educational system and agreed upon the establishment of primary schools, middle schools, professional schools, universities, technical schools, foreign language schools, and ordinary schools.

The government enacted and promulgated several modern school regulations, such as the government regulations for the Hanseong Normal School on April 16, 1895 and the ordinance for primary schools on July 19, 1895.

The government had earlier opened two modern schools, the Dongmunhak and the Yugyeong Gongwon, and there had been private modern education by foreign missionaries and Korean civilians, e.g., Baejae Hakdang and Wonsan Haksa (Wonsan Academy).

The Gabo Reforms, however, introduced national laws that permitted the establishment of modern schools for the public. The ordinance for primary schools of July 19, 1895 was the first educational ordinance that aimed to provide public education.

Although the ordinance stipulated that a foreign language be taught as an elective in the three-year common course and the two- or three-year advanced course, the language types were not specified. Furthermore, a foreign language was not part of the primary school curriculum. The subjects actually taught in classrooms were limited to reading, writing, penmanship, arithmetic, topography, science, and chemistry

The Yugyeong Gongwon was closed, but the government did not skip a beat in opening another English school: the English Language School opened in February of 1894 in the location where the Yugyeong Gongwon had been.

The royal court placed an English man, W. du F. Hutchison, who had been teaching English at the Naval Academy in Ganghwa, in charge of the new school. The school opened with 64 students, including four from the Yugyeong Gongwon, some of Hutchison's previous students, and students whom the government dispatched. T. E. Halifax, an instructor from the Dongmunhak, also joined the school.

It appeared the school curriculum was not restricted to English language education: students wore uniforms and received regular military drills from a master sergeant trained at a British Naval Academy. It is reported that in May 1894, after watching a military drill contest held at the Russian legation, Gojong praised Hutchison and Halifax for the students' uniform and performance.

In accordance with the government regulations for the Foreign Language School promulgated on May 10, 1895, the English Language School was merged with the Japanese Language School, which had been open since June 1891, and the two schools became the Foreign Language School. However, the integration was a matter of formality: the two schools remained in different locations and maintained separate financial accounts. After the merger of the two schools, the government opened a French and a Chinese language school, respectively in 1895 and in 1896, and merged these two into the Foreign Language School.

The Foreign Language School was managed by the central government. The minister of education had full authority for the school's management, deciding everything from language types taught to the establishment of institution branches to the number of foreign instructors needed.

The court also decided to open a joint English training program with the Baejae Hakdang as another alternative to train English language specialists. In February 1895, the government entered into a contract with Baejae.

The contract stipulated that it send the Baejae as many as 200 students and pay some of the instructors' salaries as well as the students' tuition. According to the contract, the program was a three-year course; the trainees were guaranteed positions in the government. Some of the students from the Yugyeong Gongwon were transferred to the Baejae program. The government-sponsored program allowed the Baejae Hakdang a higher recognition among the public.

The program lasted for five years from 1897 to Appenzeller's death from drowning in 1902. In the wake of this, Baejae came under the joint management of the U.S. Southern and Northern Methodists. As government support was terminated, the school suffered a financial crisis.

Nonetheless, today, the Baejae Hakdang, or presently the Baejae Middle and High School, has grown to be one of the most well-known institutions of secondary education in Korea. Also, Baejae students and graduates actively participated in Korea's progressive, independence movement. For example, Syngman Rhee, who led the Korean Provisional Government, a Korean government in exile established in 1919, and Ju Sigyeong, a leading scholar in the standardization of Hangeul spelling and usage, were students at Baejae in the 1890s.

Kim Eun-gyong is an associate professor of applied linguistics and Associate Dean of the Center for International Affairs, Information and Communications University (ICU) in Daejeon. She can be reached at
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