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             As the process of socialization shapes a woman¡¯s thoughts and dreams into the accepted framework of the society, so does the education system in Korea reinforce what is learned at home. ¡°Education has served as a means of political socialization through promoting knowledge, changing behaviour [sic] patterns and shaping the people¡¯s outlook on values, . . . .¡±[1] The Korean education system does just that. It socializes women to preconceived gender roles which stress the home over work.[2] It further socializes women by means of gender-specific curricula geared towards training in jobs traditionally reserved for women or by leading them into majors with little value in the job market.[3]

             Though the efforts of all the women¡¯s movements in Korea to date have resulted in the opening of higher education to women, the effort has been in vain. Women¡¯s educational gains have not been used as a vehicle to throw off the yoke of dependence on, and submission to, males in their quest for independence; but have instead become a new form of class indicator that has only served to prolong the status quo.

             The higher a Korean woman¡¯s level of education, the less likely she is to have a career.[4] The higher her husband¡¯s level of education, the less likely she is to have a career. This is in stark contrast to the West where women generally receive a higher education to improve career opportunities and those with a higher education are more likely to use this education in a career. Women in Korea are instilled with the desire to attend a university without regard for their personal wishes.[5] As a result, vague career goals and strong societal pressures to marry, work together to push a woman away from a career and into the role of housewife. A higher education then becomes little more than a qualification, or status indicator,[6] that will get women into a marriage of sufficient financial security to allow them to not work.



             When considering the current goals of the Korean education system, it is imperative to first consider the historical role of women and their exclusion from the system.[7] Next we must consider the currently perceived goals of the education process on women (perceived by the elderly men who comprise the powers that be in the educational hierarchy). And lastly one should realize different levels of emphasis placed on boys¡¯ and girls¡¯ education.

             During the Chosôn Dynasty the daughters of Yang¡¯ban or upper class families in Korea were excluded from the educational opportunities afforded boys. Through the use of Confucian texts they were taught the skills and behaviors of proper Confucian women. They were further trained in the skills they would need in their future roles as daughters-in-law and wives. They were excluded from the civil service examination system of the Chosôn Dynasty which was used to select government officials. The civil service examination was open to all members of the middle classes; passing it would mean Yang¡¯ban status and a high standard of living. As the women were excluded from this opportunity to attain a higher status in life they relied on the institution of marriage to assure their futures. Women who married into a Yang¡¯ban family would maintain their status and be afforded comfortable lives.

             The civil service examination has been replaced and today women and men have an equal opportunity to pass the college entrance examination and enter a university. The current examination system, as in the past, determines one¡¯s social status and virtually assures one a higher standard of living.[8] Though women now have the same educational opportunities as men, the obstacles they face in the job market force them to seek status and a high standard of living through the traditional method of marriage. Educational opportunities which are touted as being the key to women¡¯s independence, in fact seem to be nothing more than one of the new tools used to secure their socio-economic status through marriage.[9]

             If the goals of the educational system were the same for boys and girls then all aspects of education would be the same for both sexes. Such is not the case. Traditions change slowly; the old patterns of women¡¯s subservience in Korea has shaped the modern education process. ¡°School curricula and teachers¡¯ gender role concepts, . . . attitudes . . . [and] stereotypes have produced rigid . . . preconceptions of appropriate abilities and behaviors for male and female students.¡±[10] As we have seen, ¡°In many textbooks, traditional gender role stereotypes are reinforced, school girls are socialized to be passive, obedient, and dependent, whereas boys are socialized to be active, directive, and independent.¡±[11]

             School uniforms are one example of the inequality of gender role training in Korean schools. ¡°Equality is being of the same extent or magnitude; uniformly proportioned or of the same ability and rights¡± according to Webster¡¯s.[12] There is no logical reason for school girls to wear dresses and boys to wear suits starting from the first year of middle school at the age of 12. If school uniforms are to be used, they should be exactly that, uniform. Every school girl complains of the cold they must endure in their short skirts in under-heated Korean classrooms during the winter. Femininity training or ¡°anticipatory socialization¡±,[13] preparing girls for their eventual struggle to gain a position in society through their charms, is the sole motivation behind this system. There is no fundamental difference in the quality of the education a girl receives based on her uniform. Girls are not only being educated but are being trained in femininity and beauty, two of the skills they will need to achieve happiness through a good marriage.

             Sex segregation in schools is another way of insuring different types of education for different genders and further serves to uphold some of the Confucian edicts about boys not sitting with or talking directly to girls. The gender-biased textbooks discussed in chapter 2 are not written with malicious intent. They are written by an older generation that wishes to instill in children the skills they need to grow up and enjoy a happy life in their society.[14] They are written by parents; mothers and fathers who are products of the traditional school system¡¯s goals and who equate happiness for their children with a happy marriage. Neither are the teacher¡¯s gender-role concepts born of ill-intent; teachers are parents too, and carry the same unconscious attitudes.[15]


             The goals of the children educated under these conditions naturally fall in line with the attitudes under which they are raised. Many women go to and complete college not always because they want to, but because they must comply with their parents¡¯ wishes.[16] This is true even though personal aspirations for a career may be absent. Children are socialized to believe they want to go to college. Their whole lives they are encouraged to want a college education,[17] and from elementary school on they are fed through a series of private institutes[18] all of which are designed to guarantee them a place in the university of their choice. Girls are raised by their parents to believe that a college education is the key to a comfortable upper middle class future without work. And indeed they seem to be right (40.6% of working women have less than a primary school education, 31.1% have a middle school education, 20% have a high school education and only 8.3% have a college education).[19] These strong beliefs inundate a child¡¯s thoughts and virtually eliminate the possibility of different thoughts or aspirations. Of the dozens of interviews I conducted with middle and high school girls, 100% responded that they would try to go to college after high school and 80% said they thought they would get married after finishing college. Only 10% were willing to entertain the possibility that they would not marry at all.[20]

             While there is a wish for every child in the family to attend a university, the parents¡¯ goals for the education of their children sometimes are dictated by other concerns. Financial security in retirement, continuation of the family¡¯s bloodline and maintaining the family¡¯s social class depend on the sons getting a good education and job. For this or immediate financial reasons, the daughter¡¯s educational opportunities sometimes suffer. Though girls from upper or middle class families are virtually all afforded an opportunity to try out for the college entrance examinations, many economically less fortunate families cannot afford to send all their children to many of the expensive preparation institutes or hire the private tutors[21] necessary to give them a chance for success. For many of these economically challenged families all their hopes, and finances, are put in ¡°one basket¡± so to speak. In these cases the most important child in the family¡¯s future, the son, is given preference over a daughter for educational opportunities while the daughter may even work to help support her brother¡¯s bid for college entrance.[22]


             S came from a family with two sons, one daughter and limited resources; as such they poured all their available financial resources into the education of the second son (the first, being much older, had failed to enter a university years before). S, just a year behind her brother in school, worked and financially supported her brother during his second attempt at entering college before military service, and his third attempt after. After successfully entering a prestigious university on the third attempt, she continued to offer financial support while he attended school. Consequently, she was never able to realize her own goal of studying for and passing the college entrance examinations.[23]



             Korea long had a tradition of open government examinations which theoretically allowed members of the middle classes to try and achieve a coveted government position, thereby raising their family¡¯s status to that of a Yang¡¯ban.[24] This possibility of class mobility based on one¡¯s educational achievement made education a major concern in the past; its importance carries on today.[25] But as with many good ideas, the theory of class mobility and the reality of the situation were far apart. The incidence of middle-class families being raised to an upper class level were rare. The dream though, however remote it may have been, has kept education as an important part of Korean life.

             In the past, some middle-class families did not have the money to send their children to expensive teachers to prepare for the entrance exams. So although class mobility was a theoretical possibility, hereditary was generally the determining factor of one¡¯s status. As a result, the wealthy and upper class usually were able to pass on their social status to their children while the lower classes did the same.

             Today the names have changed but the system remains. Those who can afford to send their children to years and years[26] of expensive institutes have children who attain upper or middle class status; they become modern Yang¡¯bans. Those who cannot afford the expensive private schools remain in their class. The gratuities (or ¡°gifts¡±) most mothers give their children¡¯s teachers to garner special attention for their child further aggravates the education gap.[27] The children of those who can pay tend to get extra attention; the children of those whose parents cannot pay would be fortunate to get no attention, but may instead get worse, they may actually receive negative attention.

             Mothers who have successfully landed an upper class husband, and so do not have to work, have one further advantage over those of lower class or working women. The education system functions on the premise that the unpaid labor of the mother is there to support the child¡¯s needs while studying prior to, and for the college entrance examinations. So, the current system favors the children of educated wives as they are less likely to work and more likely to have time to supervise their children¡¯s education.[28] This makes the educated Korean woman a valuable commodity to a husband in Korean a household. This demand in the home for college-graduate women sets the stage for women¡¯s exclusion from the work force[29] and explains why women with higher educations are less likely to have careers.


             The preconceived notions held by the powers that be have a great affect on the type of education either gender receives. The gender-specific curricula and the gender-specific educational and career guidance from teachers and parents serves to lock women into pre-defined, acceptable roles for women. By the end of junior high school boys are already excelling in math and natural science while girls are pursuing studies in arts and humanities. By the time they enter college women are thoroughly indoctrinated into choosing the proper course of study for their gender[30] and so tend to opt for majors leading to ¡°pink collar jobs¡± (jobs primarily and traditionally reserved for women)[31] like dietitian, health worker or teacher. Men having been instilled with different goals tend to go for science or humanities like engineering, law or business administration.

             These tendencies are clearly shown in table 1, which shows a higher percentage of women than men in medical and pharmacy majors (most become nurses or other health care assistants, ¡°pink collar jobs¡±). Four times more women than men are in teaching majors, women are increasingly moving into this field as it is abandoned by the men through the process of employment amelioration (I will discuss this in detail in chapter 5). There are more than twice as many women as men in arts and physical education. The majority of these women are art majors, considered a good major for women since they can engage in this activity while their husband works. Among the social science majors, 29% are men as opposed to 18.5% for women, any major that starts with the word ¡°science¡± is traditionally a man¡¯s domain. Women account for more than twice as many of the humanities majors as do men, as a non-science field, humanities is naturally a female dominated area ; and men comprise the majority of the natural science majors at 49.3% compared to 27.9% for women, as a hard science it is, of course, a traditionally male-dominated area.










Table 1


Female Undergraduates by Department (Major)


Female                                                      Male

                 4.6%                   Medical and Pharmacy           3.5%

                 12.1%                   Teaching Profession             2.9%

                 13.1%                    Arts & Physical Ed.             4.5%

                 18.5%                        Social Science                 29.7%

                 23.7%                                  Humanities                   10.%

                 27.9%                       Natural Science                49.3%


Source: Korean Women¡¯s Development Institute, Korean Women Now (Seoul: By the author, 1994), 16.            




             So strong are the prevalent gender role concepts that women actually feel intelligence or superior ability in a male dominated area will bring them misery! A 1985 survey asked Ewha Womans University students if it was possible for gifted woman scientists (natural science majors) to succeed in careers. 64% responded that it was possible but they would have unhappy personal lives because of their success. ¡°Her gifts work against her and cause an unhappy marriage.¡± said one respondent. Only 17% said they could have successful careers and happy personal lives. And 15% thought the women would have to work harder than men to be successful. ¡°Employers do not usually welcome bright women, so gifted women scientists are unhappy individuals.¡± claimed another . . . .[32] Intellectual excellence is equated with unhappiness and defeat! A socialization process which stresses the traditional, and the opening of higher education to women has created a deep-rooted paradox; while women value intellectual ability, they hold the view that it is incompatible with happiness in marriage.[33]


             In the recent past a much greater number of men received some form of education while the women mostly stayed home. During the Japanese colonial period more emphasis was placed on women¡¯s education and the percentage of women in public schools increased. Today, with the mandatory government provided education through elementary school and the very high participation rate of middle schools, 99.3%, and high schools, 98.7%,[34] girls attend virtually the same amount of pre-college schooling as the boys, ¡°. . . the only significant disproportion in enrollment according to sex occurs at the college and university level.¡±[35] In 1960 when Korea was still an economically poor country the average number of years of education for men was 4.78 while women received only 2.92 years. Women received only 61% as much education as men. Since Korea¡¯s economic prosperity in the 1980¡¯s the numbers have increased substantially; in 1990 the average number of years for men was 10.01 while it was just a few years less for women at 8.22.[36] This places women¡¯s total years of education at 82% of the men¡¯s. The difference can be accounted for by the emphasis placed on men¡¯s need to eventually support a family.

             To compensate for the historically lower number of women at the college level many women¡¯s universities have been established over the years. The unfortunate result is that in the highly competitive university entrance ¡°examination hell¡±[37] the women¡¯s schools often end up giving out entrance slots, available only to females, to girls with lower qualifications than a boy who is turned down at a co-educational school. According to my statistics, 91% of those women will not have careers[38] and will have ended up wasting a college education[39] to become a housewife; a college education that could have been used by a productive worker or someone with a greater desire to learn, and to apply that knowledge on the job.

             In the Korean system however, this is not a missed opportunity to train a productive worker who will contribute to society. As we have seen, the government relies on the unpaid labor of the Korean housewife, and has carefully controlled the education system to cater to the needs of big business[40] and the society during its miraculous economic expansion of the last decade.

             The Korean government¡¯s long and efficient history of providing the correct number of examination graduates to meet the national needs began in 958 during the Koryô Dynasty when the first civil service examination system was implemented to find capable civil officials for the Koryô bureaucracy. In one form or another it has continued to the present. In the 1960s, the government sponsored technical education programs catered to the needs of light industries.[41] Government incentives provided for various kinds of vocational education programs that helped to support the skilled manpower needs during the rapid industrialization of the 1970s.[42] In the 1980s a ¡°graduation quota system¡± was implemented to adjust the number of college graduates; it was later replaced with an admission quota system that more closely matched the number of graduates to the industrial needs of the business community.[43] In the early 1990s the government increased enrollment in engineering colleges to meet the demands of the manufacturing industries.[44] And the government is now in the process of expanding and renovating the entire university entrance examination system to meet the need for more originality in the coming ¡°Age of Information¡±.[45]

             Due to this careful planning by the government, the graduates of vocational high schools had a 85.4% employment rate in 1995;[46] junior vocational college graduates closely matched the number of jobs available, in 1994 at an employment rate of 81.9%;[47] and not too surprisingly, in 1993 the number of college graduates closely matched the number of jobs available for them.[48] There is however one catch, as we shall see in chapter 5, most of the women who get jobs right out of college work in clerical or other non-careers fields and quit after several years on the job. By not considering female college graduates as part of the career work force the ¡°. . . alliance of the state, . . . and the multinationals which acted as the core driving force of the recent industrialization process¡±[49] seems to have planned women right out of the job market and into the kitchen. While a matching of all the college graduates (men and women) to the number of college graduate career positions available would virtually guarantee women a place in the work force, that route has been ignored. As it stands now, the number of college graduate men closely match the number of available career positions, with a residual buffer zone of temporary clerical type jobs. These jobs are filled by a constant rotation of graduating women who work for only a few years before marriage.

             Some of the traditional educational institutions which have a reputation for providing a solid functional education useful primarily only for those who plan on working in a stable career, and have therefore had no appeal to women wishing to increase their desirability to a potential spouse, (by means of a graduate certificate from a prestigious university) have until very recently been closed to women. Women were first admitted into: the National Tax College in 1988, the National Police Academy in 1989, the Railroads Junior College in 1990, and the National Agricultural Co-op Junior College in 1991.[50]

             Another area traditionally reserved for men is that of technical high schools. Technical high schools teach skills to be used on the job and offer little in the way of improved status. They are also of little use to women who must stay home to raise a family. In 1993 only 9 of the 25 technical high schools were open to women. Of these 9 schools women made up only 29.1% of the total enrollment. Women accounted for only 4.8% of the students in all 25 schools.[51]


             Though women have made inroads into the realm of higher education it has, unfortunately, led mainly to the raising of their status and desirability to a potential husband. We have seen that 64% of the University students at the number one ranked women¡¯s university in Korea believe they cannot find happiness if they have successful careers. So why do they attend a university at all if they do not intend to work? Is it for self-enlightenment? Do their parents force them through 12 years of school and private institutions at an untold cost and rob them of their childhood so they can be enlightened? I don¡¯t think so! No, girls strive for years, endure entrance examination hell and finally enter a university because they are socialized to believe it is the ticket to a lifetime of (upper middle-class) happiness in a marriage[52] with a white collar (college graduate) worker.

             The disproportionate number of women¡¯s universities appear as little more than thinly disguised marriage institutes (Ewha Womans University even has a college level degree, in home economics)[53] whose main goal is to produce marriageable upper class women for the nation¡¯s population of college graduate men. Educated Korean women are a valuable commodity to a marriage as it is believed their educational achievements will have a positive influence on the next generation. The Korean government promotes this structure because it is made up of college graduate men who wish to preserve the current version of the Yang¡¯ban class structure, and the male¡¯s traditional position in society.

             Higher education is a good thing, and indeed, it is good for everybody, but the current system is not valid. It does not promote women¡¯s independence and does not promise to free them from their historical roles. It does however, act as a social class indicator and so helps to exclude women from careers. Until educated women are needed in career positions and are treated equally there, education alone will not suffice to cure society¡¯s inequalities.

Next Chapter - Chapter 5 Work


                  [1] Ministry of Education Republic of Korea, Education in Korea: 1995-1996, 22.

                  [2] Sandra Mattielli, Virtues in Conflict, 150.

                  [3] Ibid.

                  [4] Cho, Labor Force Participation, 157.

                  [5] Katie Monagie, ¡°Study for Your Life.¡± Scholastic Update (Teachers Edition), 20 March 1992, 19.

                  [6] Yu and Phillips, Korean Women in Transition, 25.

                  [7] Research Center for Asian Women, Women of the Yi Dynasty, 129-130.

                  [8] Katie Monagie, ¡°Study for Your Life.¡± Scholastic Update, 18

                  [9] Chung, Socialization and Women in Korea, 178.

                  [10] Korean Women¡¯s Development Institute, Korean Women Now, 14.

                  [11] Ibid.

                  [12] Webster¡¯s New School and Office Dictionary, newly rev. ed. (1974), s.v. ¡°Equal.¡±

                  [13] Chung, Socialization and Women in Korea, 175.

                  [14] Ibid., 179.

                  [15] Ibid.

                  [16] Katie Monagie, ¡°Study for Your Life.¡± Scholastic Update, 19.

                  [17] Ibid.

                  [18] Ibid., 18-19.

                  [19] Statistics are for the year 1990. Korean Women¡¯s Development Institute, Korean Women Now, 23.

                  [20] Based on personal interviews with 25 middle and high school students, which covered the subjects of career, education and marital goals.

                  [21] Katie Monagie, ¡°Study for Your Life.¡± Scholastic Update, 19.

                  [22] Ibid.

                  [23] S, who is now 30, helped support her brother for about six years.

                  [24] During the Koryô period and the Chosôn Dynasty a state civil service examination system allowed males from the middle classes to attain a coveted position in government by passing the examination. For a commoner to pass the exam was a significant event and could advance his entire family from the commoner class to that of a Yang¡¯ban or Literati. Carter J. Eckert, (et al). Korea Old and New, 70.

                  [25] Ministry of Education Republic of Korea, Education in Korea: 1995-1996, 22.

                  [26] Korean parents intent on securing their children¡¯s future prosperity begin sending their children to private institutes (hak¡¯wôn) during the first few years of elementary school. The children continually attend through middle and high school with a progressively higher level of intensity and parental pressure to succeed. By the time they are in their last year of high school they have been going to private institutes every day after school for 10 or more years according to Katie Monagie, ¡°Study for Your Life.¡± Scholastic Update, 19.

                  [27] Ibid., 18.

                  [28] Okpyo Moon, ¡°Urban Middle Class Wives in Korea¡± Korea Journal, 37.

                  [29] Ibid., 41.

                  [30] Sandra Mattielli, Virtues in Conflict, 150.

                  [31] Lebra, Constraint and Fulfillment, 57.

                  [32] Data was based on a survey of 780 students conducted in 1985. Chung, Socialization and Women in Korea, 178-179.

                  [33] Ibid., 179.

                  [34] In 1995, 99.3% of the elementary-school graduates went on to middle school. In 1994, 98.7% of the middle-school graduates went on to high school. Ministry of Education Republic of Korea, Education in Korea: 1995-1996, 56, 59.

                  [35] Korean Women¡¯s Development Institute, Korean Women Now, 15.

                  [36] Ibid., 14.

                  [37] The college entrance examination is the most important moment in many young people¡¯s lives. After 10 or more years of intense study, including daily after school institutes, their last year in high school culminates with students studying as much as 18 hours a day in preparation for the college entrance examination. Success or failure on the examination ¡°seals the fate¡± of a student and can determine one¡¯s status for the rest of one¡¯s life. Katie Monagie, ¡°Study for Your Life.¡± Scholastic Update, 18.

                  [38] I conducted a survey of 139 married college graduate women between the ages of 41 and 50. Data gathered included the name of their school, their major and whether or not they currently were engaged in careers. Among English majors, 84% did not have careers; natural science majors, were at 90%; art majors and social science majors had the highest rate of non-employment at 95% each. The average for all majors combined showed that 91% of them did not have careers.

                  [39] Okpyo Moon, ¡°Urban Middle Class Wives in Korea¡± Korea Journal, 32.

                  [40] Cho, Labor Force Participation, 155.

                  [41] Ministry of Education Republic of Korea, Education in Korea: 1995-1996, 60.

                  [42] Ibid., 65.

                  [43] Ibid.

                  [44] Ibid., 67.

                  [45] Ibid., 136-137.

                  [46] Ibid., 82.

                  [47] Ibid., 71

                  [48] Lecture on ¡°The Korean Education System¡± by Horace H. Underwood, for the course ¡°Introduction to Korean Studies¡±, Division of International Education, Yonsei University, Seoul, February 1993.

                  [49] Cho, Labor Force Participation, 155.

                  [50] Korean Women¡¯s Development Institute, Korean Women Now, 16.

                  [51] Ibid.

                  [52] Chung, Socialization and Women in Korea, 178.

                  [53] Ministry of Education Republic of Korea, Education in Korea: 1995-1996, 64.