[Outlook]Getting global education right

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[Outlook]Getting global education right

In the corner of a recent newspaper page splattered with news of the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech was a small article informing readers that Koreans form the largest foreign student community in the United States, surpassing even China and India. While the majority of the Korean students are college or graduate students, more and more in grade school are also opting to study in the United States, the number reaching some 20,000 annually. According to a Unesco statistic, some 2.5 million students around the world are studying away from their native countries. Included in this number are some 100,000 Koreans. Korea is the world’s No. 3 in the number of students studying abroad, but considering the fact that China and India, with 340,000 students and 120,000 students respectively, both have populations above 1 billion, we could be called the virtual No. 1.
With so many Korean college students going off to study elsewhere, Korean schools are trying harder to become more “international.” These efforts will indeed help us build a “knowledge nation” that will be considered the new standard of civilization in the 21st century. The problem is that the methods schools are applying aren’t quite international enough.
The most popular one is increasing the number of courses taught in English. Unfortunately, it seems many schools are concerned with only raising the number of courses without taking the time to acquire the proper supportive environment. Such superficial efforts are a sign that they are oblivious of the trap ahead of them.
Korea does not stand at the top of the pyramid of world knowledge. It is making an arduous climb toward the summit. In this case, we need a double tactic. If we want to climb to the top, we must become capable of producing the type of knowledge that the world will want to consume. In order to do so, we must learn to speak our own language perfectly in order to express our thoughts at a world-class level.
Studying for the Toefl or practicing daily English won’t help our students produce world-class knowledge. A shallow knowledge of English is not enough to produce any depth of thought. English is a necessary condition, but it is not enough to enable us to acquire a place in the world of intellectual analysis and imagination.
At the same time, we must learn and develop the history of our own thoughts and actions as Koreans based on our elementary grounding in China’s 13 classics and 25 histories. We must build a pyramid of Korean-style world knowledge by studying the subjects needed for producing world-class knowledge ― based on a thorough understanding of both East and West.
Along with the tactic for producing, we must provide the means for exchanging and consuming. An indiscriminate expansion of the number of English courses is not the answer. We must make sure that the courses taught in English are taught by carefully selected professors who can speak English as fluently or almost as fluently as natives.
The globalization of our university education will be completed when the bright young minds of Korea don’t need to be educated in U.S. schools and are instead able to develop world-class thinking perfectly in their native language and at the same time freely come and go between the East and the West to come in contact with the world’s best thoughts and actions.
The true globalization of our university education system is not in entrusting our students to foreign education but grafting foreign education to our domestic education.
Unfortunately, the reality is very gloomy. No matter how well they are educated, scholars with doctoral degrees from domestic schools face invisible discrimination compared to those who received their degrees abroad. In order for our schools to become properly globalized, we must make our domestic scholars stars in the domestic academic scene and further on in Asia and the world. The answer is simple. The Korea Research Foundation should give competent scholars with domestic doctoral degrees the chance of permanent employment. Then young scholars with the ability to produce knowledge will not have to worry about their livelihood and studying abroad and will concentrate on producing Korean-style world knowledge. The days when we will see the Won-hyo, Ji-nul and Twe-gye of the 21st century are not far away.
Even today, numerous young students from elementary to high school, as well as university students, are leaving home to study in America. In order to help them become winners in the composite of two cultures, who can successfully contribute to the pyramid of world knowledge, we must see to it that our domestic schools are properly globalized as soon as possible.

*The writer is a professor of international relations at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ha Young-sun
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