Friday, July 31, 2009

Development pressure cooker

Spatialworlds website

Picture descriptions:
Left Image: Road infrastructure intersects with the beauty of the South Korean landscape.
Right image: Seoul from the top of the Samsung building.

Seoul, South Korea: N: 37º 01' E: 126º 36'

The unique demography of South Korea

It is a remarkable that a country that was totally devastated 50 years ago following the Korean War is now a bustling nation developing at an unprecedented rate. This development has been particularly noteworthy over the past 30 years with South Korea regularly appearing near the top of many of the important development indicators. In the last post the nature and quality of the education sector was highlighted. In this entry I want to focus on the fascinating demographic impact of the compressed rapid development of the Korean economy and society. During our visit we were frequently made aware of Korea's rating on the world stage and how the country intends to continue to develop and expand as a force in the economic world. The economy of South Korea is a highly developed free-market economy that is the fourth largest in Asia and 15th largest in the world. South Koreans enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world and have a high life expectancy and a high level of economic freedom. South Korea has one of the smallest gaps between the rich and the poor in Asia. South Korea boasts the world's highest broadband internet access per capita. In 2007, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked South Korea's IT Industry Competitiveness among the top three in the world. South Korea's economy relies heavily on exports and it is among the world's top exporters. It is home to many well known global conglomerates such as Samsung, Hyundai-Kia, LG and SK. In 2007, the Hyundai Kia Automotive Group became Asia's second largest car company and one of the top five automakers in the world. Who would have believed in 1990 that Samsung would overtake Sony as an economic operator.
What I wish to focus on in this blog are the ramifications of such development for Korean society. Such ramifications are evidenced in demographic terms when we look at birth rates, age-sex ratios, urbanisation, homogeneity of the population, religious observance and liberalism. The demographic statistics listed below are not remarkable in themselves but what is unique is how rapidly South Korea has demographically changed since 1980 in particular. As a demographic case study it is unique.

Demographic changes over the past 30 years

In 2009 South Korea has:
* a Total Fertility rate of only 1.08 (was 6.2 in 1960)
* an ageing population with 9.1% of the population over 65, projected to be 38.2% by 2050 (The % of the population over 65 was only 2.9% in 1960). South Korea has the most rapidly ageing population in the world.
* Unless a massive immigration program is launched in South Korea, the population will decline to 42.35 million by 2050 (presently the population is 48.3 million)
* an agricultural/fishing workforce of 7.9% (81.6% in 1958)
* a manufacturing and mining workforce of 17.2% (4.6% in 1960)
* a commerce and services workforce of 74.9% (13.8% in 1960)
* a life expectancy of 86.02 (only 62.33 in 1971)
* an increasing imbalance between males and females. 108 males to every 100 females.
* 46.9% of its population saying that they have no religion, 22.8% Buddhist. 18.3 Protestant and 18.3 Catholic. Of these only Catholicism is growing significantly.
* the highest % of high school graduates in the world (in 2009 it is 80% but in late 1990's it was only 40%)
* Labour shortage is inevitable because of the rapidly ageing population and the decreasing size of the economic active population (15-64 years old).
* a GDP/capita of US$20,000 (in 1960 was $60)

So what does this all mean for the South Korea of the future? Such a question is a great basis for a case study in a geography class. The answers are unknown but many questions can be asked and explored.

The questions!!

* Will the sexual imbalance be corrected by the importing of brides. If so, what will be the impact on this homogeneous society.
* How will the welfare and health infrastructure cope with the ageing population?
* With increased urbanisation how will the cities adapt and be sustainable?
* In such a traditional society what will be the impact of non-religious identification and materialistic society.
* How will South Korean society deal with diminishing population growth?
* Will there continue to be well paid jobs for the educated to realise their economic dreams.
* Will South Korea be able to maintain its manufacturing competitiveness against the industrial giant of China. If not, how can South Korea maintain it standard of living into the future.
* Will South Korea be able to maintain it liberal democracy and economic miracle with the growing demographic pressures of an ageing, low growth and sexually imbalanced population.
In short, is the economic miracle of South Korea sustainable and is the society created in such a pressure cooker about to handle the heat?
Again, the case study of South Korea has the potential to ask more questions than provide answers for the geographer.

South Korea: More questions than answers!

Spatialworlds website

Picture descriptions:
Left Image: The message at Daeil Foreign Language School (Beautiful Dreams, High Hopes)in Seoul during a monsoonal downpour.
Right image: Classic view of a South Korean river.

Seoul, South Korea: N: 37º 01' E: 126º 36'

Questions to ponder
When searching for a country to study, the inquisitive geographer ideally wants to go beyond the mundane and investigate a place full of contradictions and complexities. From July 13th – 26th I was lucky enough to attend the Asia Education Foundation’s Korean Studies workshop in Seoul. What a great experience! The trip went way beyond my expectations and provided an amazing amount of knowledge and awareness of modern South Korea. However despite the copious lectures and input from tour guides on the field trip I was left with many questions about what makes South Korea tick. These questions relate to development, growth, relations with neighbors, education, environment and the culture itself. On the surface the country is beautiful, the economy seems robust, education is highly desired and the people friendly and happy. However the more time I spent in South Korea the more the questions grew in number. This blog sets out to pose questions about South Korean education, using information and experiences gleaned from my two weeks in the country. Future blogs will deal with Korean cultural sustainability, environmental perceptions, relations with neighbours and the rapidly changing demographics of Korea. In no way are the questions posed intended to be a criticism of South Korea but rather the observations of a geographer posing the question of what, where, why, what if and where next.

Competitive education

The educational scene in South Korea is highly valued but also highly competitive. Education is closely linked to South Korea's remarkable development and is seen as a necessary component of South Korea's future. As a result South Korea has some of the highest Program for International Assessment (PISA) scores in the world for literacy and numeracy. Many believe that Korea's attitude to education is determined by the countries confucious traditions and is firmly embedded in the national psyche and society as a result. Students are at school from 8am till 10pm at night (sometimes even later!). Even in the holidays students attend extra schooling to cram for the exams. There are many private tuition firms making a killing from the demand for extra tuition and academic success. Only now are academics and the Korean Government starting to see that this may be exploitation of the young and a potential problem.

The questions!!

* What sort of pressure is this putting on the young people of South Korea?
* Is such a system of exam centred learning creating a creative society?
* Is such a pressure cooker for young people healthy and is it sustainable?
* Will young people eventually challenge such a competitive environment or are Korean young people resilient enough to survive in such a system of education?
* Where will it stop? Can the treadmill of academic endeavour be slowed down?
* What social controls does the system use to ensure conformity and observance of expectations?

Considering the complexities of these questions in relation to education alone, the study of Korea has the potential to be a rich and challenging case study for geography classes. Korea and its amazing development over the past 30 years provide a unique opportunity to study an economy, environment and society going through massive changes over a very short time. This compressed development is not only unique but will continue to be newsworthy in future years. It is inevitable that with its dynamic socio-economic-political nature, South Korea will be frequently in the news. Such currency will provide teachers with a country that will provide plenty of newsworthiness as well as a country worthy of Australians knowing about and understanding in the Asia-Pacific region. Korea and it study will provide plenty of rich multi-dimensional questions for the inquisitive geographer to explore. I hope to pose these questions in future blog entries.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Actioning Geography

Spatialworlds website

Picture descriptions:
Images: From within the Royal Geographical Society building, Kensington, London: The heart of Geography.

Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Geography for the 21st Century

It is an interesting time for geography in Australia with the growing profile of geography as a result of the work of the National Curriculum Board. As mentioned in a previous blog, the Australian Geography Teachers' Association (AGTA), has been pro-active with other Australian geography associations/societies in ensuring that geography has been identified as a discipline to be developed as part of phase 2 of the National Curriculum due to be implemented in 2012. To support the work of the National Curriculum Board, AGTA, the Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) and the Royal Geographical Society (RGSQ) in October 2008 established the 'Towards a National Geography Curriculum'(TNGC) project. On June 30th 2009 the TNGC project handed over to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) their report. This report, by leading geography educators in Australia in consultation with geography teachers across Australia over the past six months has been written to inform ACARA about the views of geography educators prior to the commencement of their work in developing the National Geography Curriculum. The report is a synthesis of the latest geographical educational research across the world, Australian curriculum documents and views gleaned from geographers at forums across Australia in 2008/09. The report has attempted to provide a coherent view on a geographical definition, procedural knowledge, pedagogical approaches in geography, curriculum structures, conceptual understandings in geography and implementation strategies. In 2009 ACARA is planning to develop a Position Paper on geography, appoint an advisory panel and curriculum writer and conduct consultation forums.
AGTA looks forward to this work and the opportunities the process provides to increase the profile of geography via the development of a national geography curriculum for 21st Century Australia.
It is interesting that what we are going through at the moment is similar to what geography in schools has recently undergone in the United Kingdom. When I was London in April this year I was privileged to spend a day at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, London. As well as enjoying the company of Dr Rita Gardner and her team I also learnt in detail about the efforts of the RGS to re-invigorate geography in the UK via their Action Plan. The Plan includes:
1. Chartered Geographers
2. Geography Ambassadors
3. Key Stage 3 resources
4. Virtual fieldwork and local learning
The website ‘Geography Teaching Today’ has been developed as part of the Action Plan for Geography to provide a single point of web-based communication and information sharing.
The UK Geographical Association is leading on other areas of the Action Plan.

To support the work with the National Geography Curriculum, AGTA is also involved in other initiatives which will provide opportunities for geography teachers and students to be involved in the renewal of geography in Australia. As well as the National Geography work the coming months will see AGTA:
1.Continuing to support the work of the RGSQ with the Australian Geography Competition initiative and the World Olympiad.
2.Geography promotions
b.Big Week Out
c.AGTA Awards
a.Geo-Careers website
b.Teacher orientated AGTA website
4.Professional Development and resources:
a.AGTA Conference
b.Key Skills publications
c.Geographical Education
d.Geographia newsletter
5.Making links with National and International Geographical Education bodies
a.Membership of NEF/SSI/IAG/AFSSSE/IGU/IAG etc
b.Formal relationship with other geography associations i.e RGS, HKGS
6.Introducing 21st Technology into the geography classroom
via workshops and Industry liaison with the Spatial Science Institute,
7.Geography Teaching Standard project with Melbourne University
8.Beginning Geography teacher programme
(Primary teachers and those between pre-service and experienced)
9 Marketing Geography
a.Australian Geographic liaison
b.Jon Dee’s 'Do something' initiative