As we bring in a new millennium, the world is undergoing great changes. The collapse of Western-centered world order is certain with the fall of Japan’s corporations and its nuclear power crisis in addition to the worldwide financial crisis of 2008 along with the EU financial crisis of 2011. Amid this situation, new changes such as the Jasmine Revolution and the emergence of new social networking sites (SNS) centered on mobiles, iPhones, and iPads, which are the advent of the post-PC era are increasing the uncertainty of the future. This environment of rapid change is calling for reform in universities all over Korea.
The university first appeared in the 12th century and evolved into a modern-day university by the 18th century. The university was a hall of academia and an ivory tower for educating citizens and leaders in modern times. The 20th century brought about changes in the university that stressed the practical aspects of learning by opening its doors to the masses.
Korean universities have always pursued the pride and independence of its people during the Japanese occupation of Korea, while on the other side they were the training grounds for collaborators of Japanese imperialism. With the liberation of Korea, universities in Korea were able to attain rapid qualitative expansion by transforming into institutions of higher learning that created upward mobility and produced pillars for modernization. Universities which drastically underwent qualitative growth played an important part in the rapid economic growth of Korea. However, we are currently faced with the problem of ‘excessive education’ or ‘poor education’ as universities have failed to respond to new changes in the 21st century.
The issue here is to identify the trends of the 21st century and the ways in which universities can take appropriate action. On the one hand, emphasis is placed on unlimited competition based on the market, while on the other side, specialized, practical and expedient education is pursued. However, it is difficult to determine and predict the practicality and expediency of education. In particular, it is even more difficult to provide specialized and practical education by predicting the changes in the market. For instance, although there was a stress on a ubiquitous environment centered on the mobile, no one predicted that smart phones would be the new trend. Furthermore, we are still not trend-setters but merely following trends set by others. The demand for practical education is bound to be one step behind. In order for Korea to become a truly advanced nation, a culture with a new set of values that will foster talented and capable individuals who will contribute to the world at large should be created rather than on experienced skills and knowledge. That is, only when the ability to create new cultural industries is cultivated can there be the ability to lead changes.
Emphasis is placed on interdisciplinary studies in advanced countries which promote critical and creative thinking in order to create new trends. Thus, liberal arts education is receiving renewed attention. There is renewed focus on liberal arts education which died out due to the market logic of infinite competition and expediency. Liberal arts education poses fundamental questions for mankind and cultivates problem-solving skills through an intellectual and emotional journey with regard to these questions. The essence of education is developed and reared by mankind. A new trend is a manifestation of our desires within the very essence of mankind. Thus, although the specific needs may change from the changing times and environment, that starting point originates from mankind. The financial crisis is a perfect example of how mankind brought about educational decay, which stressed practicality, illuminating the fact that the basics of education should never be overlooked.
We should go back to the basics, especially in times of difficulty. Only then can we find solutions and a way out of this dark tunnel. Now is the time when ‘qualitative transformation’ is needed in true educational institutions by educating humans to be more humane in this ever changing world in which we live in and by fostering talented individuals with a competitive edge for a new culture.
Translated by Julia Kim