[Column] Japan learns digital education from Korea

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[Column] Japan learns digital education from Korea

Yeom Jong-soon

The author is a technological advisor to the Osaka Prefectural Board of Education.

“Phono sapiens,” a portmanteau of the words “smartphone” and “homo sapiens,” refers to the tribe who cannot live a single day without smartphones in their hands. Depending on whether you have the marvelous gadget or not, an immeasurable gap exists in the abilities of the two groups.

Humankind had to learn diverse knowledge to survive, and its major means of acquiring it was memorizing. But today, you don’t have to memorize anything as long as you can type in some keywords in the search bar. Still, that doesn’t mean you can solve any problems through searches without learning.

In the age of the Industrial Revolution, what mattered were know-hows. But in the age of the digital revolution, know-where and know-who are more important than know-how.

A comparison of the global Top 10 companies by market cap in 1989 and 2020 shows a tidal change. In 1989, the world’s No. 1 was Japan’s NTT, and five Japanese financial companies were included in the Top 10. Seven among the Top 10 were Japanese enterprises. But in 2020, Top Six were IT services companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon. The fourth industrial revolution has turned the structure of the world economy and industry upside down. In the process, the Japanese names in the Top 10 disappeared.

After defining it as a “digital defeat,” Japan launched the Digital Agency to cultivate digital talents. Starting with the 4-trillion-won ($3-billion) budget in 2019, Tokyo is implementing the GIGA School Program to ensure that primary and middle school students nationwide will have computers and high-speed internet. The government provided each school with tablets with digital textbooks and electronic blackboards.

But the Japanese government is concerned about the low digital literacy among the country’s teachers. Japan’s education authorities are benchmarking the digital transformation of education in North America and Europe to learn from examples of other advanced countries.

As a senior official in Osaka Prefectural Board of Education, I dealt with digitalizing primary and secondary education in Japan for four years. Based on my experience, I am convinced that Japan can reduce trial and error by benchmarking the digitalized education in Korea which shares many similarities with Japan in the education system, method and classroom rather than learning from Western countries. That’s why I have introduced Korean cases to Japanese educators whenever possible.

After hearing Korea’s success stories, teachers and education officials in Japan are implementing changes based on them. I visited Seoul with officials from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Board of Education to observe the National Education Information System, an integrated computer network for school affairs and educational administration in Korea, and the current status of the free provision of Chromebooks. We also went to a public elementary school in western Seoul to watch a class on artificial intelligence and programming education.

Officials from the Tokyo education board praised the level of digitalization in Korea’s education system, which its government has been pursuing successfully with thorough preparation and meticulous execution. They were also surprised to see the proficiency of teachers and students in using IT devices.

Though Korea’s success in digitalizing its education provides guidelines for other countries, Korea seems to have a long way to go. While foreign countries, including Japan, are rolling up their sleeves to create an effective environment for smart education by rapidly distributing digital textbooks and electronic blackboards, Korea appears to sit on its hands. It is regrettable that the Seoul Metropolitan Council last year entirely cut the budget proposal by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education for tablets for elementary and secondary students.

Korea lagged far behind other countries during the industrial revolution. But in the digital era, it has emerged as an advanced country. The time has come for the government to focus on digitalizing the education sector to foster talent to lead the digital revolution in the future.

Translation by the Korea Joongang Daily staff.
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