Dr. Hoy-Yong Kim - Reflections on Korean & Canadian Educational Systems, Philosophies & Approaches

July 03, 2019

Dr. Hoy-Yong Kim is a visiting scholar from Pusan National University in South Korea where he was the Dean of the Institute of General Education. Dr. Kim is also the Editor in Chief for the Korean Journal of Educational Philosophy. This is his second visiting scholar appointment at Simon Fraser. He is working with Dr. Heesoon Bai on projects related to the re-humanization of classroom environment through dialogue and an ethic of care.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Both my wife and I have a background in the philosophy of education.  She is an elementary school teacher which has allowed me as a researcher to stay closely connected to the teacher community.  I believe this is very valuable in keeping my research tied to practice.

We also have a daughter and son, who have had opportunities to experience both the education system in Korea and Canada. Their experiences have also been very instrumental in reflections on my work.

Tell us briefly about your research interests?

The focus of my research has been around the philosophy of childhood education.  Over the past two decades I have examined the deep ties between teachers and learners and looked at ways to strengthen this through dialogue and relationship. In particular, I have studied children's philosophy education from the perspective of integrated-moral education. Professor Heesoon Bai is an expert in this area and this is one of the main reasons I have returned a second time as a visiting scholar.

In the past, I have also looked at ancient Greek models of education, examining practice and philosophy. Since the early 2000’s, I became interested in Socrates’ dialogue method as a method for facilitating moral education and the teaching of philosophy for children.

In 2005, I conducted a qualitative research project for one year which resulted in my publication An Ethnographic Study on Effects of the Integrative Moral Education by the Community of Philosophical Inquiry (Korean Journal of Educational Research, 43(2), 53-82).

I have also been very interested in the application of the Imaginative Education for schools in Korea as an alternative to the regimented, highly structured, exam-based education system.

Can you provide a brief update on what’s happening between your last visiting scholar appointment at SFU and now?

Back in 2010 when I first came to Simon Fraser University, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Kieran Egan and became interested in imaginative education. I found his book Learning in Depth (LiD) to be a very useful model for alternative education to the Korean education model.  Upon my return, I translated both Learning in Depth: A Simple Innovation that Can Transform Schools and the Future of Education into Korean.

Subsequently, in 2014 I had the opportunity to present some of the concepts of Learning in Depth to the Education Public Office branch of the Korean government and a group of principals and teachers. This resulted in an opportunity to pilot LiD in Korean schools starting with a small rural elementary school in the outskirts of Busan. The school was selected as the winner for the most outstanding curriculum and LiD has since been expanded to additional schools including some secondary schools. There is increasing interest in LiD and I have published a number of papers on imaginative education and the practical experiences of students and schools with the program.

Last year, I was also a visiting scholar at Frankfurt School, Institute of Social Sciences where critical theory was developed by thought leaders like Max Horkheimer and Jurgen Habermas. I was able to use this study period to reflect more closely on the changing social cognition of the teaching profession in Korea.

Can you say more about the changing social cognition of the teaching profession in Korea?

Teaching used to be viewed as a prestigious job in Korea.  They were considered civil servants and were respected by both parents and students.  They played an active role in the moral education of students, preparing them for integration into society.

Today we see both parents and students, particularly beginning in middle to high school, less interested in teachers imparting this type of education and only in knowledge to advance exam scores.  This speaks to the broader societal pressures where a higher percentage of the population has college degrees and there is increasing competition to get into a good college so that one can get a good job.  Standardized testing is used to advance at every level of the education system.  As a result, curriculum, textbooks and teachers are evaluated based on their ability to teach to common tests.  Students, starting at a very young age, also face enormous pressures and spend most of their time in school or in after-class tutoring.

Although there may be a degree of this in North America, the pressures and degree of standardized exams and single-track curriculum to support this system of rigorous testing is at a different level.   

There is very little room for recognizing individual differences and educational success is focused entirely on test scores, which in turn is tied to the ability to memorize facts.  In recent years, high-order thinking skills have been emphasized in the entrance examinations, but memorization of knowledge is still an essential element of the test. There is very little acceptance in Korea for concepts like Gardner’s multiple intelligences.

It is interesting to consider that despite some of the challenges you are citing in the education system in South Korea, it has also made significant advances in science, technology and industrial development over the past two decades. Can you comment on this?

It is true that competitive and structured education in Korea has helped the country grow.  The educational level of the whole nation has increased and there has been tremendous progress as a result of the abundance of talented people in engineering and the sciences.

However, I also reflect on the cost of this progress. Over the long run, what are the costs of not acknowledging the differences in children's abilities are personalities?  What are costs at a physical and mental health level of being continually under such pressure to conform and perform?

Nine years ago, my daughter Sohee studied at Burnaby North Secondary School for a year.  When she returned to Korea, she continued to keep in touch with her friends and one of the things they discussed was the marked difference in science education.  Whereas her class was focused mainly on memorization of course content, her friend in Canada was continually encouraged to cultivate her interest and further her own inquiry.

Is it possible to have the best of both worlds?   Of recent, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this with the help of Dr. Heesoon Bai.  She has challenged me to find harmony in oriental and western thinking and to look at my own inward life, beginning with self care. Professor Bai is also serving as my mentor to inspire me to come up with balanced thinking and optimal conclusions.

Being able to step away from the system in which I operate, I have been able to see how there has been incremental change in how universities are evaluating for admissions and the great efforts that the Korean government has been making.  I also see the strong opposition from conservative political groups.

A key question I hope to answer in the remaining months I have as a visiting scholar at SFU, is my role and focus in continuing to improve the education system when I return to Korea.