Academic journal article International Journal of Education

Towards Progressive and Dynamic Multicultural Education: Teachers' Awareness of Multicultural Education in South Korean Schools

Academic journal article International Journal of Education

Towards Progressive and Dynamic Multicultural Education: Teachers' Awareness of Multicultural Education in South Korean Schools

Article excerpt


While multicultural education was first started in the United States by concerned activists and educators to secure social justice for both presently and historically marginalized groups, educators in other parts of the world are seeing it as a tool to better meet the needs of their own marginalized students. Such is the case in South Korea, which has experienced rapid demographic changes in recent decades. This article explores how South Korean teachers understand the increasing diversity in South Korean society and examines their perspectives on multicultural approaches in schools using a survey of 86 schoolteachers in three different cities. The findings suggest a need for politicalization of multicultural education beyond mere tools to address immediate problems facing the cultural others in Korea.

Keywords: Diversity, Multicultural education, Teacher Professional Development, South Korean education

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1. Introduction

South Korea has boasted relative ethnic and racial homogeneity for some time, and its schools long celebrated the concept of Danil Minjok (Ethnic Uniformity or One-Blood Ethnicity) as the basis for national pride and identity (Authors, 2010; Moon, 2010). This pride was challenged as the nation experienced an explosion of cultural diversity in recent years. For instance, South Korea's Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development (MEHRD) reported in 2006 that the number of multicultural students (Damunhwa Haksang or those from families where at least one of the parents are not Korean born) increased by 30% or more in the early 2000s and 68% in 2005 alone. In 2008, MEHRD reported 300% growth of such students in Korean schools from 2005 to 2008. Many of these multicultural students come from families where one or both of the parents emigrated from different parts of Asia. Some of the parents settled in Korea after marrying a Korean citizen while others sought to improve their economic circumstances by seeking employment and over-staying their working visa to become undocumented or illegal immigrants (Moon, 2010; Tschong, 2009; Won, 2008). Still others came to Korea as refugees from North Korea to escape both economic and political hardships. In response to the rapid demographic changes, South Korean schools are seeking to help these multicultural students become incorporated into the South Korean mainstream using multicultural education (Damunhwa Kyoyook). Using a survey of eighty-six teachers, this study looks at how South Korean schoolteachers view the increasing diversity in South Korea and the multicultural approaches utilized in their schools. The goal is to suggest some ways to better prepare these teachers who are working with multicultural students by drawing from American immigrant experiences in school.

1.1 Literature Review: Schooling of Immigrants in Two Countries

Drawing from American immigrant schooling where schools played an important role in Americanizing immigrant students may be useful in discussing the South Korean approach to their immigrants in schools. In the early twentieth century, when a large influx of immigrants from eastern and southern European countries came to the United States, for example, American schools responded by seeking to transform these "aliens into Americans" (Fass, 1989). Such transformation required specific instructions on acquiring characteristics of what the society imagined Americans to be, including how to clean, pray, and talk like Americans (Olneck, 2004). Driving the transformation is the underlying perception that the foreign culture is a threat to national identity, and this threat must be address through assimilation into American society by eradicating the foreignness. Partly because of such efforts, these "aliens" became white Americans over time as their ethnic ties weakened, and the need for society to incorporate them into the American racial hierarchy as whites heightened (Lew, 2006; Lee, 2005; Reodiger, 2005; Portes & Rumbaut, 2001). …

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