The following 5 takeaway lessons are from the recent Google Big Tent Seoul event. Jasper Kim of Asia-Pacific Global Research Group was a panelist for this conference relating to the issues below:
1: Why isn’t the Korean education system turning out the next Mark Zuckerberg – or is it?
First, Korea should and can create its own homegrown version Mark Zuckerberg – as seen, for example, with Jack Ma of Alibaba in mainland China. Second, Koreans are highly entrepreneurial – the rise of small businesses/shops in Seoul are testament of this – but it’s arguable whether Korea’s current ecosystem promotes entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship for the 21st century.
2: Having taught university students in Korea, US and Japan, do you see any difference vs. students in other countries?
US: The US is of course a highly individualistic society – thus students have more “freedom to fail” since the US culture is based on new frontierism and risk-taking. If you think about it, American’s first immigrants were inherent risk takers. Because it has a shorter history, it is not as burdened by centuries of historical precedent.
KOREA: Korea’s students live in a so-called collectivist society. So students have to worry not only about their own career, but how their career choice will impact or influence their family (and family’s reputation), and further up, how their career choice will be perceived among a relatively conservative society. Of course, this is true in other societies, but not to the degree seen in contemporary South Korea.
3: We’ve heard about what other countries do to nurture innovation. How can we bring this system and mindset be brought to Korea?
Silicon Valley in California is the most oft-cited case of nurturing innovation – but it is one of many benchmarks.
In Silicon Valley’s case, innovation and risk taking was spurred in part through deregulation, not further government intervention. This can in the form of, among other things, certain tax exemptions and greater flexibility of how certain firm types could invest when it came to venture capital investments.
Another interesting benchmark exists with Germany’s “fraunhofer” innovation hubs that began several decades ago. Today’s there’s dozens of such hubs within Germany. Unlike in Korea’s case – where government funding is prevalent in orchestrating various state-sponsored innovation hubs, industrial parks, and incubators – Germany’s fraunhofer system involves a structure funded approximately 70% by industry (private sector) and 30% by the state in the form of state grants (similar somewhat to funding in the US through its National Research Center and DARPA).
4: How can Korea get away from its seeming “teaching to the test” structure/mentality.
Teaching to the test is unfortunately an inherent part of today’s Korean education system, especially at the K-12 level. This is in part driven by the need to provide “the [one and only one assumed correct] answer” to students relating to the Korean college entrance examination (called “seuneung shihum”). The country essentially revolves around this one test, taken at age 17 or so in high school, which in large part determines the future of a young child until retirement. If the child scores a “home run” on this important day in the form of a high test score, she/he is marked for success. Anything short of a “home run” test score will essentially banish the student to a second-tier school, which in Korea, is almost tantamount to an academic scarlet letter, which in most cases lead to much less enticing financial and even social prospects in the future. On this “mother of all test days,” the country essentially comes to a grinding halt – public employees are asked to start work later, subways come more often, and aircraft are prohibited from flying near or over designated test centers.
This links to a system that promotes teaching to the test, whereby primary school educators essentially outsource some of their teaching duties to outside private education institutes (known as “hagwon”). So for this reason, various shared and entrenched interests exist that make change in education to promote innovation a challenge.
“Success” should be broadened to mean more than getting into a narrow band of universities and companies. A more innovative society can be fostered by pushing for a culture that a
5: How do American, EU and other schools nurture creativity, how is that systematized, how do you build that into a curriculum?
Korea can create what we refer to as a “Confucian creativity cluster” by creating value-added, proactive linkages between research universities, industry, funding institutions (VC funds), and the government. In particular, the private sector has a shared interest in providing funding and even part-time instructors to donate their time in the form of setting up programs, providing equipment, and to teach high school students, especially related to high tech innovation, which is highly value-added. After all, the private sector is most in tune with the skill sets needed for the twenty-first century workforce. Of course, this has to complement, not pre-empt, teaching and other programs by the school itself. As an example of this, Microsoft works with local high schools in the Seattle region to provide equipment and teach related courses to spur the next generation Bill Gates, et al.
View the Google Big Tent event’s “Education and Innovation” panel below (including Jasper Kim of Asia-Pacific Global Research Group):