Education is one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality. It also lays the basis for sustained growth. Better schooling investments raise national income growth rates. In nearly all countries, though to varying degrees, educational progress has lagged for groups that are disadvantaged due to low income, gender, disability or ethnic and/or linguistic affiliation. However, there is an on-going education revolution occurring.
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The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) released the results of its latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) yesterday, November 29. TIMSS 2015 assessed more than 600,000 students in grades four, eight, and the final year of secondary school across 60 education systems.
One of the early, decidedly modest goals for this event was simply to bring together key decisionmakers from across Asia (and a few other parts of the world -- it would become more global with each passing year) in an attempt to help figure out what was actually going on with technology use in education in a cross-section of middle and low income countries, and to help policymakers make personal, working level connections with leading practitioners -- and with each other. Many countries were announcing ambitious new technology-related education initiatives, but it was often difficult to separate hope from hype, as well as to figure out how lofty policy pronouncements might actually translate to things happening at the level of teachers and learners 'on-the-ground'.
As the first country to move from being a recipient of World Bank donor assistance to become a full-fledged donor itself, Korea presented in many ways an ideal host for the event. (Still is!) The Korean story of economic development over the past half century has been the envy of policymakers in many other places, who see in that country's recent past many similarities to their own current situations. Known for its technological prowess (home to Samsung and many other high tech companies) and famous in education circles for the performance of its students on international assessments like PISA, educational technology issues could be found at the intersection of two important components in a Venn diagram of 'Brand Korea'.
Since that first global symposium, over 1400 policymakers from (at least by my quick count) 65 countries have visited Korea annually as part of the global symposium to see and learn first hand from Korean experiences with the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in education, to be exposed to some of the latest related research around the world, to share information with each other about what was working -- and what wasn't -- and what might be worth trying in the future (and what to avoid). Along the way, Korea has come to be seen as a global hub for related information and knowledge, and KERIS itself increasingly is regarded by many countries as a useful organizational model to help guide their own efforts to help implement large scale educational technology initiatives.
While international events bringing together policymakers to discuss policy issues related to the use of new technologies in education are increasingly common these days, across Asia and around the world, back in 2007 the Global Symposium on ICT Use in Education represented the first regularly scheduled annual event of its type (at least to my knowledge; there were many one-off regional events, of course, many of the good ones organized by UNESCO) bringing together policymakers from highly developed, middle and low income countries.
Participating in the event for each of the past ten years has offered me a front row seat to observe how comparative policy discussions have evolved over the past decade in a way that is, I think, somewhat unique. What follows is a quick attempt to descibe some of what has changed over the years. (The indefatigable Jongwon Seo at KERIS is, I think, the only other person to have participated in all ten global symposia. As such, he is a sort of spiritual co-author of these reflections -- or at least the ones which may offer any useful insights. I'm solely responsible for any of the banal, boring or inaccurate comments that follow.)
On the streets of Shimla, residents stare at a strange group of visitors. The group looks and acts different from other tourists to this hilly capital of India’s mountain state of Himachal Pradesh.
Not Indian, and definitely not the usual European retirees. Oh, and even stranger, the group starts taking photos of parking lots, trash cans, and the tiny alleys that snake up and down the city.
That was how a group of global experts in a gamut of urban matters appeared to the citizens of Shimla. It was the group’s first day in a town they had never seen, nor ever imagined they would visit.
But here they were - experts at solid waste management, urban parking, public transportation, IT and city planning - at the request of the government of Himachal Pradesh (HP). HP is renowned for its pleasant climes, verdant forests and snow-clad peaks that not only act as a carbon sink for India’s burgeoning economy but also serve as a source of five perennial rivers that sustain the lives of million in the teeming plains below.
The inspiration for the experts’ visit came from the highest levels of the state government. Dr. Shrikant Baldi, the state’s additional chief secretary, had visited Korea to attend a global green growth conference sponsored by the World Bank. There he saw the real-life application of strategies that his government needed to take their own green growth agenda forward.
Can a sustainable water sector be developed simultaneously with a country’s growth? Can the water sector continue to expand and achieve comprehensive coverage and financial sustainability goals to become a recognized global model for water sector management and performance? Can a country without a single sewer line in 1958 have 90 percent of its wastewater treated by 2012?
The answer is yes! The example is Korea.
South Korea today has the fourth largest economy in Asia, is a member of the OECD’s “Rich Club,” and is part of the G20. Despite sharp economic shocks emanating from the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, the global financial crisis in 2008, and the more recent slowdown in the Chinese economy – Korea has bounced back and continues to grow.
So it’s hard to imagine that some 70 years ago, Korea’s future looked very bleak – and akin to many of the excruciatingly difficult post-conflict environments that we face today.
To briefly summarize Korea’s post-World War II history: a 1947 report on Korea commissioned by U.S. President Truman concluded, “South Korea, [as] basically an agricultural area, does not have the overall economic resources to sustain its economy without external assistance …. Prospects for developing sizeable exports are slight ….. The establishment of a self-sustaining economy in South Korea is not feasible.” Then the Korean War compounded these problems – resulting in massive damage to both the north and the south – with destroyed infrastructure, a loss of skilled workers, a million South Koreans killed, and as much as one-quarter of the country’s population refugees.
We have many lessons to learn from Korea – particularly as our institution, the World Bank, increasingly focuses on post-conflict and fragile environments.
Although South Korea is known for its large scale “Chaebols,” which have dominated much of its political and economic life – less well known is the considerable support that the government has provided to small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs). As in most countries, (3 million SMEs), over 80% of all employees (10.8 million employees), and almost 48% of total national production.
While some cities have grown, others still lag behind. Such inequalities in development are usually characterized by weak economic performance, low human development indicators, and high concentration of poverty. For example, Mexico achieved incredible growth as a nation, yet per capita income in the northern states is two or three times higher than in the southern states. Disparities in other social and infrastructure metrics are even more dramatic.
AlphaGo, Google’s DeepMind Artificial Intelligence (AI) program for Go game, recently beat the world’s top ranked Korean grandmaster Lee Se-dol in a five-game Go match in Seoul. Lee’s defeat by 4-1 turned into a shock for the Korean public and quickly spurred a major discussion on the state of Artificial Intelligence development and its broader impact on society. In response to the soaring public attention, the Korean Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) has laid out the Artificial Intelligence Information Industry Development Strategy, which aims to strengthen the foundation for AI growth.
Value addition through manufacturing has been a major focus of economic policymakers across the world, and at times with remarkable success, most famously in East Asia. Initial ‘Asian miracles’ in places like South Korea have since been eclipsed by the meteoric rise of manufacturing in China, which has grown its exports in manufactures by 18 percent a year over the past 10 years, compared to a global average of 7 percent (ITC Trade Map data).
Most countries generally seemed to follow a basic pattern, initially establishing manufacturing credentials in light manufacturing, such as in textile and apparel, but then in time moving on from such products to higher-value-added and more complex products. As they moved on and up, they opened space for other countries to move into the initial entry products, following the so-called ‘flying geese’ model of division of labor.
There have been noticeable absences though, with not all regions having moved into manufacturing. This is partially the case with Central and South America, but most strikingly with Sub-Saharan Africa.
What can be done to support countries in their quest to deepen their manufacturing sectors, and extract the jobs and technological development that this can offer? How can they develop the kinds of deep and comprehensive manufacturing ecosystems that have enabled China to maintain investment despite fast-rising labor costs?
In the last three decades, East Asia has reaped the demographic dividend. An abundant and growing labor force powered almost one-third of the region’s per capita income growth from the 1960s to the 1990s, making it the world’s growth engine.
Now, East Asia is facing the challenges posed by another demographic trend: rapid aging. A new World Bank report finds that East Asia and Pacific is aging faster – and on a larger scale – than any other region in history.
More than 211 million people ages 65 and over live in East Asia and Pacific, accounting for 36 percent of the global population in that age group. By 2040, East Asia’s older population will more than double, to 479 million, and the working-age population will shrink by 10 percent to 15 percent in countries such as Korea, China, and Thailand.
Across the region, as the working-age population declines and the pace of aging accelerates, policy makers are concerned with the potential impact of aging on economic growth and rising demand for public spending on health, pension and long-term care systems.
As the region ages rapidly, how do governments, employers and households ensure that hard-working people live healthy and productive lives in old age? How do societies in East Asia and Pacific promote productive aging and become more inclusive?