SOUTH KOREA: A MODEL FOR EMULATION?
PREPARED BY PPMK – THE MALAYSIAN STUDENTS’ ASSOCIATION OF SOUTH KOREA
South Korea is one of the world’s greatest success stories. The transformation from a war-torn, resource-poor wasteland to a first world nation in just over 60 years has amazed many countries. Therefore, South Korea’s outstanding performance has been praised as a model for emulation in both developing and developed countries. So, how did South Korea do it? The secret to their success is briefly put into words in a quote from an article written by Professor Sung at South Korea’s University of Science and Technology:
“Without its well-educated, strongly motivated and highly disciplined workforce, South Korea wouldn’t have been able to achieve such success”
That being the case, it can be deduced that the stellar development of South Korea is a result of their rigorous education system and their extraordinary work culture. Having very limited natural resources, South Korea has always suffered from overpopulation. However, South Koreans have somehow made lemonade out of lemons as their best asset turned out to be their unfailing human resource. Coupled with their highly enviable academic performances and unfathomable work ethics, South Korea’s miraculous growth within a short period of time was made possible.
Education is highly regarded in the South Korean society. Academic success determines one’s socioeconomic position and is fundamentally a source of family pride. In 2015, the country spent 4.7% of its GDP on all levels of education. While in Malaysia, even though a higher percentage of our country’s GDP is spent on education, the results are rather dismal. For instance, in a global education league measured by OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Malaysia was ranked among the bottom three whereas South Korea tops the chart for reading, mathematics and science. Research shows that almost 60% of Malaysian students did not meet the minimum benchmarks in mathematics—the baseline proficiency required for students to participate effectively and productively in life.
The wide achievement gap between Malaysia and South Korea is essentially caused by the society’s outlook on the importance of education. South Koreans view education as the main propeller of social mobility for themselves as well as the driving force to their nation’s ever growing economy. South Korea’s zeal for education and its students’ desires to get into a prestigious university is one of the highest in the world. These students understand that graduating from a top tier university will lead to a secure and well-paid white collar job with the government, banks and major conglomerates such as Samsung or Hyundai, making students’ determination and laser sharp focus in school resulting to over 80 percent of university admissions. The South Korean educational institution also facilitates the needs of students in the form of 24/7 libraries and study rooms/cafes.
On the other hand, Malaysian students lack the competitiveness, enthusiasm and motivation of the South Koreans in our pursuit of academic success. It might be that Malaysian students have no sense of urgency or that we do not fully understand the significance of education in the development of our country. But whatever it may be, the Malaysian government has to realise that the present education system needs a thorough evaluation. The standards and quality of education in Malaysia should be ameliorated; benchmarking Malaysia’s academic performance against competitor countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore would make a great first step towards fundamental changes in our education system.
With regards to work ethics, I believe that the level of education is highly associated with the quality of a nation’s workforce. Presently, the inadequately educated workforce of Malaysia has become the biggest obstacle to business opportunities and growth. In 2010, 58% of the Malaysian workforce had only a secondary level education, 13.2% had primary and 2.6% had no formal education. That would imply that nearly three-quarter of the Malaysian workforce in 2010 is low-skilled. In contrast, South Korea has one of the highest percentage of its citizens holding a tertiary education degree. Bachelor’s degrees are held by 68% of South Koreans. With such exceptional percentage of highly-skilled workforce, South Korea’s rich economic rewards are no surprise. Besides, South Koreans are known for their efficiency and productivity. When the task is not completed, South Koreans would work extra hours to achieve their goals whereas Malaysians would prefer to resume said task another day.
In conclusion, if there is one thing Malaysians can take away from South Koreans, it is their zeal and drive towards excellence.