Online Education

South Korea high at school in school 2.0?

Over the past two years, many students have experienced the vagaries of digital education, but South Korean students have unknowingly experienced the transition to a new educational era. At least, this is how the authorities designed it when they presented the school branch of the New Digital Deal in July 2020. With 1,200 billion won (870 million euros), Moon Jae-in’s government wanted to transform schools and universities by relying on new technologies.

This colossal investment for a country that already has hyperconnectivity had the primary goal of adapting its infrastructure. On the agenda: renovating several thousand classrooms, replacing more than 255,000 computers, equipping 1,200 schools with tablets, and creating a learning platform. But, above all, a network of schools. “Plan to achieve Wi-Fi coverage of 380,000 classrooms by 2024 will be finalized in 2022”announced by the authorities in December 2020.

“Almost the entire population has access to digital tools. »

Back Dan bee

Lecturer at KAIST

As initial targets were met faster than expected, 98% of schools will have wireless coverage by the end of this year. The feat was made possible, in part, by the proliferation of online courses during the two years of the pandemic. South Korean schools have been closed for 76 weeks (compared to 12 in France), according to UNESCO, allowing infrastructure to be upgraded.

Opening ceremony of online courses, early 2020 (© Ministry of Education)

High speed digitization

Modernization based on solid structures. Already in 2017, 99.2% of households had an Internet connection. Added to this is the impressive mobile network coverage. “We have one of the best 5G connections in the world, our 4G coverage is very reliable and almost everyone has access to digital tools.”, says Baek Dan-bi, a professor at KAIST (Korea Institute for the Advancement of Science) and co-editor of a study on the implementation of online education in South Korea. His colleague Cornelius Kalenzi emphasizes the speed of the transition to distance learning: “Universities, schools, kindergartens have moved online. If you are in the world of new technologies, then you know that this is a big step forward. The phenomenon is very interesting, because before the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the infrastructure, the government did not dare to take such a step. »

“The authorities have tried to make sure that no one is left behind. »

Cornelius Kalenzi

Lecturer at KAIST

However, for all its advancement, the South Korean education system has not escaped the difficulties of switching to all digital technologies. “The start was chaotic, the directives of the government and the Ministry of Education were applied by choice.recalls a university professor who wished to remain anonymous. We watched what SKY was doing [acronyme des trois universités coréennes les plus prestigieuses] before copying them. There was a sense of improvisation. »

Those initial hiccups were quickly forgotten. As is often the case in a country where the ability to adapt to innovation is particularly high, the education system quickly adapted to the emergence of new technologies. Cornelius Kalenzi believes that the authorities’ desire to close the digital divide has played a central role, such as the Seoul City Hall’s decision to make its online education platform available to all students in the country.. “The private sector has been asked to help poor children so that they can rent internet access tools for free. The authorities have tried to make sure that no one is left behind.”the researcher says.

“Some of my friends haven’t seen their classmates or teachers for two years and they hate the new system. »

so min suk

art student

An observation that Seo Min Suk, a student at the Korea National University of the Arts, does not quite share. “I am a student at a government institution that does its best to ensure that everyone has access to courses, but some people have difficulty accessing digital education, such as people with disabilities or those who do not have sufficient financial resources. » Despite these criticisms, he says he is quite happy with online learning. His situation remains peculiar because, as an art student, he continued to benefit from his full-time practicum. “Some of my friends haven’t seen their classmates or teachers for two years and they hate the new system. »

A mixed feeling that reflects the research done by Cornelius Calenzi. “The first surveys showed that 50% of students support digital technologies, in particular for practical reasons, he recalls, emphasizing that now this concept has new followers. Neither students nor teachers need to travel anymore, and little by little this concept is gaining popularity. »

hybrid system

On the side of the elementary and secondary situations, the conclusions of p. The Ministry of Education does not consistently provide the transition. “Some colleges run all of their courses online, others have continued in-person with a rotation.”, emphasizes Cornelius Kalenzi. If the government at the time of the complete change of power – the new president will take office on May 10 – is unwilling to answer our questions, a possible explanation may be the need not to widen the digital divide. In the midst of renovations, some institutions were able to offer online learning while others were not.

Finally, this hybrid method has been adopted by universities following the easing of health restrictions at the end of 2021. Classes are now held in person but are still filmed to ensure continuity of learning for students who test positive for the coronavirus. Covid.-19 or living abroad. Due to the inability to travel, Japanese or Chinese students continue their studies outside the land of the calm of the morning.

“If you look at the trend in terms of infrastructure and social policy, we are moving towards a more digital world. »

Back Dan bee

Lecturer at KAIST

A system destined to continue. Because how to suddenly remove the benefits of digitalization? How do you explain to a professor that he should again take the two-hour train ride from the university instead of giving lessons in his living room? In a country where real estate prices are skyrocketing, many Koreans are far away from their jobs. “We are at a pivotal moment and I think we will try to link the benefits of online courses with those of face-to-face, predicted Back Dan-bee. If you see a trend in terms of infrastructure and social policy, we are moving towards a more digital world. » A project that is not threatened by political rotation, because this priority seems to be shared by the two main parties in the country. For Ms. Baek, one of the symbols is the possibility of a merger between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science and Technology, mentioned by the next president, Yoon Seok-yeol.

On the occasion of the opening of a new place dedicated to EduTech, the state agency KERIS also held a ceremony in the metaverse. (© KERIS)

The goal is not to stop at a hybrid system. If face-to-face learning remains relevant at the moment because some subjects are not amenable to distance learning, the metaverse provides a partial solution to the equation. And the word is captivating in South Korea, like the approach of Seoul’s mayor Oh Se Hoon, who has rushed to provide the city with its own virtual reality platform. “South Korean authorities are convinced that the metaverse can change the way we learn, Judge Dan B. Korean students are excellent at memorizing or calculating, but much worse at presentation or debating, due to a certain shyness in particular, and the metaverse can help them be more active. » A fairly common idea, according to her, in the Ministry of Education and among the population.

In December 2021, a study found that 51% of South Korean job seekers felt they were ready for interviews in K-metaverse ». “This technology is very popular, but it remains a distant one and a balance will need to be found between innovation and the ability of students and teachers to adapt to it.”tempers Cornelius Kalenzi.

“There is not enough attention to the impact of implemented technological innovations. This society is not analyzed enough. »

Benjamin Joano

Professor of Cultural Anthropology in Seoul

But if there is a country where the emergence of a metaverse in schools seems more likely than anywhere else, it is the country of the calm of the morning. “There is not enough attention to the impact of implemented technological innovations. It’s a society that can’t be analyzed enough analyzed by Benjamin Joano, professor of cultural anthropology at Hongik University in Seoul. There are relatively few ethical debates and questions surrounding this modernity. » Unlike in France, the transition to online education has not been accompanied by criticism of the harmful effects of children being in front of screens for too long. In South Korea, where the importance of education has become extremely important, getting an education has been a priority. With 50 hours a week, South Korean students work more than in any other OECD country. “When we stick to the logic that children study from 6:30 am to midnight, time spent in front of screens is not the main concern,” summarizes Benjamin Jouano.

However, if the implications of digitalization are not questioned, their potential benefits do not escape the attention of university students. “Some students are starting to mobilize to claim that we don’t have the same education as before Covid and so we feel we shouldn’t pay the same price.”Minseok says.

A year of study at a university costs between 8,000 and 15,000 euros, or 25 to 48% of the average salary. According to Cornelius Kalenzi, this significant burden on South Korean households should be alleviated in the future: “This dramatic transition to digital education has significantly reduced the costs of universities. This should be reflected in the tuition fee. » Now let’s see if the authorities want to accompany their digital revolution with a reduction in the cost of education.

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