[VIEWPOINT]Help others, help ourselvesPresident Yayi Boni of Benin said at the South Korea-Africa forum held in Seoul recently, “Korea was an underdeveloped country in the 1950s after the Korean War, but it has now grown to be the 11th economic power in the world. The Korean model gives us inspiration and sets a good example.”
It is hard to find other examples in world history where a country that received aid from international organizations has transformed itself into a country that provides economic assistance to other countries within a few decades. I think that providing good education to a talented population was the basis of South Korea’s success story. Korea entered the age of industrialization in the 1960s, about 200 years behind the advanced countries of Europe and America and 100 years behind Japan, and it was the education of talented people that enabled South Korea to achieve high rates of growth. At this point we need to look back at how much international society contributed to the development of education in Korea. The international community made an enormous contribution to the education of the Korean people at a time when Korea had been devastated by the Korean War and severe poverty. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, together with the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency, established a printing factory that produced elementary school textbooks during the Korean War. Korea’s first foreign language education institute was established at the Seoul National University in 1954, and the New Life Education Center was established at the Agricultural College of Seoul National University for the purpose of driving out illiteracy from rural areas and promoting economic development. With a loan from the United States Agency for International Development (US AID), the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, Korea’s first research center for industrialization, was established in 1965, and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, the birthplace of Korea’s science and technology sector that educated 17,500 masters and 6,500 doctors of engineering and science between 1971 and now, was also established.
It is good news that Korea has set such a good example for underdeveloped or developing countries, but I don’t think we should accept the praises of the president of Benin at face value. It seems that what he was also trying to say is that the time has now come for South Korea to pay back the international community for the multitude of benefits it has received.
According to statistics from the World Bank, about 20 percent of the world’s population, that is 1.2 billion people, exists below the poverty line and lives on less than one dollar a day. If those who live on around two dollars a day are included then almost half the world’s population, that is, 3 billion people, are at the threshold of absolute poverty.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recommends spending 0.7 percent of national income on providing support to poor countries and many advanced countries fulfil their responsibility as members of the international society by paying their share of UN expenses. The United States and Japan pay around 20 percent of UN expenses but South Korea still pays only 1.8 percent. The Official Development Assistance (ODA) of the United States is 0.12 percent of national income and that of Japan is 0.13 percent, but Korea’s ODA is only 0.06 percent of national income. Poverty is a problem that is hard to solve without active support and help from advanced countries. Now Korea, which has produced the 8th secretary general of the United Nations, needs to provide an international contribution equivalent to its economic status as the 11th largest economy in the world. We have to fulfil our duty in international society by expanding ODA for assistance to developing countries. Above all it is vital that we teach developing countries our experience in the development of education and we provide them with an effective education system for training their talented populations.
The university where I work has been aiming to achieve international education since its establishment in 1995. Currently, there are 149 foreign students from around 40 countries and this number constitutes just 4 percent of the total student body. Providing more support to developing countries in Asia and Africa through education is a way through which we can pay back the debt we owe to international society from 50 years ago. It is also a way through which we can invest in the future. We should instill the spirit of Korea in the minds of students from countries that will soon emerge on the center stage of the world economy, where we will want them as our partners. I think that educational assistance to underdeveloped countries is a duty that the Korean government and various organizations in the private sector should pursue actively. It is a moral obligation and a way of guaranteeing Korea’s future prosperity.
*The writer is the president of Handong Global University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Young-gil