An Erasmus+ program for Korea?

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An Erasmus+ program for Korea?

Spring is coming to thaw frozen relations between Korea and Japan. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Choi Kyung-hwan met his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso in the sixth Korea-Japan finance ministerial meeting on May 12. The annual meeting resumed after two and half years.

The Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Yoon Sang-jick attended the 21st Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting in Boracay, the Philippines, and had a meeting with Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yoichi Miyazawa. It was the first trade ministerial meeting in two years.

At the Asia Security Summit, also called the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore, which runs from Friday to Sunday, Defense Minister Han Min-goo will meet with his Japanese counterpart. Korea and Japan are ready to talk on pending issues such as the economy and defense, separating current issues from historical disputes.

However, keeping in mind that relations are improving on the government level, the situation is getting more serious in the civilian sector. An educator organizing exchanges among Korean and Japanese students said that student trips between the two countries have largely been suspended, with just a few student exchanges and home stay experiences remaining. Governments can resume cooperation as necessary, but the civilian exchanges are affected by mutual misunderstanding and emotional confrontations.

The Sankei Shimbun and Fuji News Network conducted a survey on May 23 and 24, and when asked how they felt about Korea’s opposition to 23 Meiji-era industrial facilities - to which Korean workers were forcibly mobilized - being registered as World Heritage sites, 73 percent of respondents said they could not understand the controversy. That is in contrast to 19.3 percent who thought it was understandable. The survey result reflects the distance among the Japanese.

Relations between the two countries have been alternately hot and cold. We need to find a way to keep relations warm and friendly, and we can find a solution in education, which proved successful in Europe. The European Commission has long operated the Erasmus+ Program, an exchange program for students in the European Union (EU).

It was established in 1987, and since then more than three million students have participated. It also offers training opportunities to the 300,000 faculty and administrative staff members working at higher education institutions. Four thousand staff members at educational organizations in 33 countries also partake in the program. Based on human exchange, a solid civilian network among EU citizens has been created that goes beyond government relations.

The EU invested 7 billion euros ($7.6 billion) on a joint life-long education project between 2007 and 2013. The budget goes toward exchanges among students and faculty, visiting students and networking activities. Because the exchanges boosted mutual understanding, the Erasmus+ program was launched last year to continue until 2020. The program is a 14.7 billion euro project that focuses on philosopher John Amos Comenius for elementary, middle and high school students and teachers; the humanist Desiderius Erasmus for the college students and faculty; inventor and artist Leonardo da Vinci for vocational education and training; and thinker N. F. S. Grundtvig for lifelong learners.

The Jean Monnet Program is an EU initiative that encourages mutual understanding and educational integration in which students and faculty of all ages visit other countries. These programs are a future-oriented investment to preemptively reduce potential discord through education.

Discord is unavoidable between Korea and Japan, considering our history and identity. However, discord with communication and dialogue is very different from discord without them. A lack of education during childhood regarding each other may be a reason.

We need to set up a Korea-Japan version of the Erasmus+ program to enhance education and exchange. It will be a shortcut to cut costs to mediate disputes in the future. Over the past two years, Korea and Japan have suffered substantial losses due to the deadlock, and the emotional damage that statistics cannot show could be even greater. Now is the time to stop this vicious cycle.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 28, Page 32

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chae In-taek

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