English Education Under US Military Government (III)
This is the 20th in a series of articles about history of English education in Korea ― ED.
It will be necessary to look into the educational reform by the U.S. Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) first to facilitate the understanding of English language education during the American occupation. The office in charge of educational affairs was the Bureau of Education, which began operations on September 11, 1945, with an officer named Capt. Earl N. Lockard. Lockard, with the experience of teaching English at a two-year college in Chicago, served as director of the bureau for eight months.
The bureau underwent several reorganizations until December 1945, when the American-Korean partnership system was instituted. It became the Department of Education on March 29, 1946. The American officers in the bureau/department, who were scarce in number and lacked intimate knowledge of Korea and expertise in education, consulted the Korean educational elite in formulating and implementing policies.
There were two mechanisms that the military government employed in order to ensure this. In addition to the bureau/department's employment of Korean counterparts, the American personnel actively sought assistance from two Korean advisory committees on education, the Korean Committee on Education (KCE) and the National Committee on Educational Planning (NCEP).
The KCE, composed of 10 members, functioned from September 16, 1945 to May 1946 and mainly dealt with important, immediate educational issues after liberation, such as the reopening of schools, the discharge of Japanese personnel, the reorganization of the bureau, and the appointment of Korean personnel including officials in the bureau and heads of middle schools and colleges.
The NCEP, active from November 1945 to March 1946, consisted of 10 sub-committees with 62 Korean educational and public leaders and 11 American officers from the bureau/department. The NCEP was involved in long-term educational planning and played a crucial role in most of the educational achievements by the USAMGIK. The achievements can be summarized as follows:
First of all, the government addressed the pervasive problem of illiteracy. Prior to liberation the use of the Korean language in schools had been forbidden for about a decade; thus, its restoration was given the most intense attention in curriculum development.
Additionally, Korean language classes for adults were provided nationwide. Consequently, the number of illiterates decreased from 7.9 million to 5.4 million during the three years of USAMGIK's rule, reducing the population of illiteracy from 78 percent of the general population at the time of liberation to 42 percent in August 1948, when the Korean government was established.
Secondly, the issue of compulsory education was given priority. One of the Koreans' utmost interests was in providing universal education. The government approved the plan for compulsory education on January 26, 1946 and began to implement it in September 1946.
Furthermore, the government introduced a single-track educational system that consisted of six years of elementary school, six years of secondary school, and four years of college, extending school years from the previous thirteen years in the Japanese educational system to sixteen years.
The Japanese underlying educational philosophy was to train some to lead and others to be qualified to follow, and thus the colonial government had operated a double-track system, which resulted in separatism and discrimination against Koreans at all educational levels. Worse yet, toward the end of colonial rule, four years of primary education became the educational norm for most Koreans.
Fed up with such discriminatory practices, Koreans welcomed the single-track educational system, which guaranteed equal opportunities for all citizens.In addition, the number of students enrolled in primary and secondary schools grew dramatically. For instance, the enrollment in the public elementary schools increased by almost 50 percent from 1944 to 1948, which is more striking when we consider the fact that the enrollment for 1944 was for all of Korea, whereas that for 1948 included the area of southern Korea only.
The enrollment in the secondary schools between 1943 and 1948 showed an even more significant increase, i.e., more than two and one half times. The government implemented a school expansion plan called ``One School for One County,'' facilitating the increase in the number of secondary schools from 97 at the end of colonial rule to 406 as of September 1947.
In the meantime, institutions of higher education showed spectacular growth as well. Under the Japanese, there had been 19 schools of tertiary education, mostly called professional schools. The colonial government had not allowed the establishment of universities, except for Gyeongseong (Keijo) Imperial University.
By the year of 1948, however, the number of higher-ed. institutions in South Korea grew to 42 in total, including four universities, 23 colleges, four two-year colleges, and 11 other various tertiary schools, while the numbers of faculty (1,256) and students (approx. 24,000) increased more than twice that at the time of liberation. Seoul National University, the former Gyeongseong Imperial University, completed merging with 10 institutions of higher education around the Seoul area in August 1946, after one and a half years of students' and faculty's fierce protests against the law of the government that permitted the mergers.
Teacher training was one important area that needed urgent measures. Before liberation the population in Korea was approximately 16.42 million; among them, Japanese numbered 456,000. There were 3.5 million children between six years of age and twelve, and 1.543 million of them attended school. Compared to this, the number of Korean teachers was 13,782 and that of Japanese 8,650.
Thus, the ratio of Korean and Japanese teachers was 3 to 2, while that of Koreans and Japanese in the total population was 33 to 1. In secondary schools the imbalance was even worse as Japanese overwhelmingly occupied the teaching positions. The composition of teachers was 833 Koreans and 2,770 Japanese as of April 1945; that is, more than 75 percent of secondary school teachers were Japanese.
After liberation, however, as Japanese returned to their country and Korean teachers of elementary or secondary schools moved either to positions at advanced schools or to jobs with better benefits, the shortage of teachers became a critical issue that required both instant relief and long-term solutions.
The government provided teacher training through both regular schools, such as normal schools (for elementary school teachers) and teacher's colleges (for secondary education teachers), and short-term training programs. It continued to build new teacher training facilities: at the time of liberation there were 10 normal schools, but six new ones opened in different regions in 1946 and another one in 1947. In-service training programs were provided at national and provincial summer schools and winter schools during the vacations.
Moreover, the government prescribed curriculums for all educational levels, except for college education, as the Japanese had done, but a great amount of freedom was allowed for the local governments and individual schools and teachers in curriculum management, unlike the colonial government, which exercised rigid control of curriculum.
Another notable difference from the national curriculum of the colonial period was the introduction of social studies as an integrated subject of civics, history, and geography in the primary- and secondary-school curriculums. The subject was used as an effective tool to familiarize the Koreans with American democracy and the American way of life. Also, the national curriculum of September 1946 served as the guidelines for the development of primary and secondary education in South Korea until 1954, when the first national curriculum by the Korean government was introduced.
Besides, the government initiated coeducation and promoted females' enrollment. For the first time among the higher-ed. institutions, Yonhi (now Yonsei) University introduced a coeducational system in September 1946.
In contrast to the problematic, often disastrous, political, economic, and social conditions, as previously described, Korean education made remarkable progress during the American occupation. This is mainly due to the effective collaboration between the government and the Korean educational leaders who aggressively pursued educational reform, on top of the general public's fervent enthusiasm for education. The USAMGIK's ultimate goal in education was to instill American democracy into the Koreans' minds with the intention of establishing an anti-communistic system in South Korea. Within the boundary of the basic policy that the government set, the Korean educational elite, many of whom held advanced degrees from American institutions and had years of educational experience, enjoyed autonomy and exercised the power of execution.
To sum up, the three years of USAMGIK's rule were the defining moment or the beginning for modern Korean education to come under the influence of American education, in the whole scope of education including educational systems and teacher training. Needless to say, English language education too became U.S.-oriented and strengthened as an important part of Koreans' life under the American military rule and ongoing educational reform.
Kim Eun-gyong is an associate professor, Center for International Affairs, IT Convergence Campus (ICC, formerly ICU), Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). She can be reached at email@example.com.