Special Education in South Korea

Article excerpt

The disciplines and professions that influence special education know no international boundaries. People committed to enhancing the development of students with disabilities benefit from an awareness of conditions beyond their immediate jurisdictions. American educators express this view through the considerable interest they display in knowing more about the education of Oriental children. Although considerable literature exists on regular education, virtually none examines the development and current status of special education within an Oriental country. This article describes special education in one Oriental nation with which the United States has had continuous and beneficial relationships--South Korea. We present basic information about South Korea before we discuss its special education system.

South Korea, approximately 620 miles long and 134 miles wide, is situated to the east of Mainland China and to the west of Japan. Its population is about 42 million. Elementary education is free and compulsory for children ages 6 through 11. Secondary education usually starts at age 12 and consists of two 3-year cycles. Approximately 93% of children between ages 12 and 18 attended secondary schools in 1986. There were more than 233 institutions of postsecondary education in 1987 (Korean Educational Development Institute, 1987). South Korea has one of the world's highest enrollment rates for postsecondary education (Europa Publication, 1988).



Protestant missionaries introduced special education in South Korea toward the end of the 19th century. In 1984, Rosetta Sherwood Hall, an American missionary and physician, first taught a blind girl Braille, adapted from the New York points system. Four years later, she founded Pyeung Yang Girl's School for the Blind. In 1903, Alice Moffett, another missionary, founded a school for blind boys in Pyeung Yang. In 1909, Hall established a school for deaf children.

The first public special education institution to educate blind and deaf children was established in 1913. Some special education classes also were provided in regular elementary schools by 1937.

Following the liberation of South Korea from Japan in 1945, education for all students, based on the principle of equal opportunity, was advocated although not always achieved. The 1949 Education Law mandated the establishment of special schools in each province and special classes in regular schools. Despite this directive, the education of students with disabilities has been implemented mainly in private rather than in public institutions because the mandates of the Education Law generally were not implemented. The Five Year Special Education Plan, adopted in 1967, was designed to improve the government's passive role in special education. However, the implementation of the plan was incomplete because the government gave higher priority to promoting the national economy than to developing special education programs. In 1961, programs preparing special education teachers were established in Taegu University in its Department of Special Education.

The 1977 Act for the Promotion of Special Education for the Handicapped signified a turning point for the development of special education in South Korea. This act mandated free public education for children with disabilities and secured related services (e.g., medical examination, physical therapy, and speech therapy) for them. Many of its important features have been implemented.

Although people with disabilities were protected by laws as early as 23 A.D., the public's attitudes toward these people typically showed their indifference, at times even their neglect and hostility. The public often view the handicapped as stubborn, irresponsible, unsocialized, and incapable (An, 1969). Some Koreans believe that, if they encounter a blind person in the morning, they are destined to have an unlucky day. …