South Korea, prime at school in school 2.0?

In the last two years, many students have had to experience the vagaries of digital education, but South Korean students have unknowingly experienced a transition to a new era of education. At least that’s what the authorities did when the “Digital New Deal” school branch was introduced in July 2020. The Moon Jae-in government wanted to transform schools and universities, thanks to 1,200 billion won (870 million euros). rely on new technologies.

This colossal investment for an already highly interconnected country had the primary goal of adapting its infrastructure. On the agenda: the renewal of several thousand classrooms, the replacement of more than 255,000 computers, the equipping of 1,200 schools with tablets, as well as the establishment of an educational platform. But above all, school networking. “Plan to provide wifi coverage for 380,000 classes by 2024 will finally be achieved in 2022”announced by the authorities in December 2020.

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

Back Dan-bee

Teacher at KAIST

The initial targets have been met faster than expected, with 98% of schools having wireless coverage by the end of this year. A performance that enabled, among other things, the generalization of online courses during the two years of the pandemic. According to Unesco, South Korean schools were closed for 76 weeks (compared to 12 in France), which allowed the infrastructure to be upgraded.

Ceremonial opening of online courses at the beginning of 2020. (© Ministry of Education)

High speed digitization

Modernization based on solid structures. Already in 2017, 99.2% of households had an internet connection. To this is added the impressive coverage of the mobile network. “We have one of the best 5G connections in the world, our 4G coverage is very robust and almost everyone has access to digital tools.”, points out Back Dan-bee, a teacher at KAIST (Korean Institute of Science for Progress) and co-editor of a survey on the introduction of online education in South Korea. His colleague Cornelius Kalenzi emphasizes the speed of the transition to distance learning: “Universities, schools, kindergartens have migrated online. If you’re in the world of new technology, you know it’s a big step forward. This phenomenon is very interesting, because before the Covid-19 pandemic, the government did not take this step despite the infrastructure. »

“The authorities have tried to ensure that no one is left out.” »

Cornelius Kalenzi

Teacher at KAIST

Although the South Korean education system is advanced, it has not been spared the difficulties associated with the digital switchover. “The beginnings were chaotic, government and Ministry of Education regulations were applied à la carterecalls a university professor who wishes to remain anonymous. We watched what SKY was doing [acronyme des trois universités coréennes les plus prestigieuses] before copying them. It felt like improvisation. »

These initial wait was quickly forgotten. As is often the case in a country where the ability to adapt to innovation is particularly high, the education system has quickly adapted to the advent of new technologies. Cornelius Kalenzi believes that the authorities’ efforts to reduce the digital divide have played a central role, such as Seoul City Hall’s decision to make its online learning platform available to all students in the country.. “The private sector has been encouraged to help poor children to rent free internet access tools. The authorities tried to ensure that no one was left out.says the researcher.

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

Seo Min-Seok

art student

An observation that Seo Min-seok, a student at the National University of the Arts in Korea, does not fully share. “I study at a public institution that tries 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 funds. » Despite these remorse, he says he is more satisfied with online learning. His situation remains specific because, as an art student, he continued to take full-time internships. “Some of my friends haven’t seen their classmates or teachers in two years and they hate the new system. »

A mixed feeling that reflects the studies done by Cornelius Kalenzi. “Early surveys showed that 50% of students were in favor of digital technology, mainly for practical reasons. recalls and emphasizes that this concept has now gained new followers. Students no longer have to travel, nor do teachers, and this concept is gradually gaining in popularity. »

Hybrid system

On the elementary and secondary side, the situations are different and the conclusions with. The Ministry of Education did not consistently enforce the transition. “Some universities provided all their courses online, others continued the personal discussion by taking turns.”, emphasizes Cornelius Kalenzi. If the government in full power – the new president will take office on May 10 – did not want to answer our questions as a possible explanation for the need not to widen the digital divide. In the midst of renovations, some institutions had the capacity to offer online education and others did not.

Finally, this hybrid method has been adopted by universities since the release of health restrictions at the end of 2021. From now on, teaching is in full-time, but still being filmed to ensure continuity of education. students who have a positive test for Covid. -19 or who reside abroad. Due to the impossibility of traveling, Japanese or Chinese students continue their studies outside the country of morning peace.

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

Back Dan-bee

Teacher at KAIST

System designed to continue. Because how do you suddenly eliminate the benefits of digital? How do you explain to the professor that he has to take the two-hour train that separates him from the university again, and not give lessons in his living room? In a country where real estate prices are skyrocketing, many Koreans are far from home. “We are at a crucial moment and I imagine that we will try to combine the benefits of online courses with the benefits of face-to-face courses, predicted Back Dan-bee. If you see a trend in infrastructure and social policies, we are moving towards a more digital world. » A project that would not jeopardize the political rotation, as this priority seems to be shared by the two main parties in the country. For Mrs Back, one of the symbols is the possibility of a merger between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science and Technology, which future President Yoon Seok-yeol is talking about.

As part of the grand opening of the new site dedicated to EduTech, the government agency KERIS also organized a metaverse. (© KERIS)

The ambition is not to stop with a hybrid system. If personal contact remains relevant for the moment, because some subjects are not suitable for distance learning, the meta-version provides a partial solution to the equation. And this word fascinates in South Korea, as does the approach of Oh Se-hoon, the mayor of Seoul, who has rushed to provide the city with its own platform of virtual reality. “The South Korean authorities are convinced that the meta-version can change the way Judge Dan-bee. Korean students are excellent at memorization or calculations, but much less at presentation or discussion, especially because of a certain shyness and metaversion could help them be more proactive. » Quite a widespread idea, according to her, within the Ministry of Education and Population.

A study in December 2021 showed that 51% of South Korean jobseekers felt ready for an interview in K-metaverse ». “This technology is very popular, but it remains remote and a balance will need to be struck between innovation and the ability of students and teachers to adapt to it.”tempered by Cornelius Kalenzi.

“There is a lack of reflection on the effects of established technological innovations. It is a company that is not sufficiently analyzed. »

Benjamin Joinau

Professor of Cultural Anthropology in Seoul

But if there is a country where metaversion to schools seems more likely than elsewhere, it is a country of morning peace. “There is a lack of reflection on the effects of established technological innovations. It is a society that cannot be sufficiently analyzed, analyzed by Benjamin Joinau, 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 exposing children to screens for too long. In South Korea, where the importance of education has become extremely important, the pursuit of education has been a priority. With 50 hours per week, South Korean students work more than in any other OECD country. “When we’re in the logic of studying kids from 6:30 to midnight, the time spent in front of the screens is not a central issue.” summarizes Benjamin Joinau.

Nevertheless, if the effects of the digital switchover are not questioned, their potential benefits will not escape university students. “Some students are starting to mobilize to say that we don’t have the same education as before Covid, so we don’t think we should pay the same price.”says Minseok.

A year at university costs from 8,000 to 15,000 euros, ie from 25 to 48% of the average salary. According to Cornelius Kalenzi, this significant burden on South Korean households should be eased in the future: “This drastic transition to digital education has dramatically reduced costs for universities. This should be reflected in the tuition. » To see now whether the authorities want to accompany their digital revolution by reducing the cost of education.

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