Education can transform individuals, societies, and economies. My experiences as a professor and a former Minister of Education, Science and Technology remind me of this truth – and I have seen it at work in my own country. In just two generations, South Korea transformed from a country with mass illiteracy to an economic powerhouse with one of the highest performing education systems in the world.
Sustainability was a critical feature of Korea’s growth and development during the decades following the Korean War. In the 1970s and 80s, Gabon, South Africa, and several other African countries had growth rates that exceeded Korea’s, but these rates were not sustained.1 The Korean experience is living proof of what’s possible when the political commitment to accelerate reform is combined with the funds to make change possible. I was fortunate enough to benefit from Korea’s strong education system. While our system is not perfect – our work is far from complete – I believe Korea’s education reform story can offer valuable lessons for other countries at various stages of educational development.
For the past two years, I have been honored to serve on the Education Commission, chaired by UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown. The Commission brought together a diverse and dedicated group of leaders – including former heads of state, Nobel laureates, entrepreneurs, and civil society activists – all committed to delivering a quality education for every child. I am proud to stand with them.
In September 2016, the Commission unveiled The Learning Generation: Investing in education for a changing world at the United Nations – a groundbreaking report that put forward an action plan for the largest expansion of educational opportunity in history. Drawing on new research and analysis from more than 300 partners in 105 countries, the report highlights an urgent and ever-worsening learning crisis that, if left unaddressed, will leave half of the world’s 1.6 billion children and youth out of school or failing to learn by 2030.
As a former politician, practitioner, and academic, I stand behind the research in this seminal report and encourage decision-makers to embrace the Commission’s recommendations as a guide for change and action. The Commission calls on countries to make results more central to reform efforts; to harness innovation in education through technology, workforce reform, and engagement with the private sector; to increase investments in education; and to ensure no one is left behind.
New ideas can radically change the world’s education systems. Writing for the @EduCommission, South Korea’s former Minister of Educaiton Ju-Ho Lee explains how innovation can build the #LearningGeneration: https://t.co/nvfaj2JH6h pic.twitter.com/D91UcfOeFA
— Education Commission (@educommission) January 11, 2018
Last December, the Korea Development Institute (KDI) School of Public Policy and Management co-hosted a conference in Seoul to discuss how the Commission recommendations could be implemented. We invited international education experts, government officials, development partners, academics, and education workforce leaders from Ghana, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Vietnam to exchange practical reform ideas and provide input on two of the Commission’s critical work streams for 2018 – the Pioneer Country Initiative and the Education Workforce Initiative.
As part of the Commission’s ongoing outreach in Asia, this global gathering introduced participating countries and development partners to the ‘delivery approach’ – a methodology that enables countries to transform ways of working through prioritization of reforms, discipline of execution, and enhanced accountability – and sparked conversations around how it could be adapted to specific country contexts.
To contribute to the Commission’s Education Workforce Initiative (EWI), academics, policymakers, and leaders from teachers’ organizations discussed initial research conducted by the Open University on how innovations and technology can be harnessed to rethink education workforce design, improve professional training of teachers and workers in supporting roles, and facilitate implementation at the country level. We look forward to officially launching EWI in March of this year and beginning this important work to redefine and strengthen the roles of teachers and education support professionals throughout the education ecosystem. Through international collaboration and collective efforts, we hope to make effective change at scale.
The KDI School was proud to co-host this important gathering to not only share lessons from Korea’s education reform experience, but also to learn from other countries and their unique stories detailing development challenges and solutions. As a member of the Education Commission, I am a firm believer in the Learning Generation vision – if countries and leaders can truly commit to invest and reform, it is possible to get all young people in school and learning within a generation.
The world is changing rapidly and in unprecedented ways. Disruption can be uncomfortable, but it can also help accelerate positive, unexpected change that improves how we live and learn. So let’s be radical in our thinking and even bolder in our actions as we look towards the year ahead. Every child deserves a quality education for a brighter tomorrow. By working together, I know we can make this happen.