Why in Korea? / by Tyler Wood

Seoul, South Korea - where the internet is a right and we celebrate that with the highest speeds on planet Earth. Where PC bangs (private internet cafes) litter the city with neon lights and advertisements informing the customers what games they specialize in. Where the internet is only getting faster with the support of the government (Hahn, 2014). Where wifi is standard on the subway and everyone is playing a game on their phones. Where investing in upgrades in technology is rarely debated and usually welcomed with open arms. This is the place where education can change to meet the already high-tech culture. We, as educators, have an opportunity to make a change. 

I am an English teacher in Seoul, South Korea. As such, I am looking at implementing changes here. It is no slam dunk, however. The Korean government has a love/hate relationship with gaming. Casino gambling is illegal for Koreans, but there are a few casinos that serve tourists. There are plenty of Koreans who bet on the dog tracks, though. Video games are even more complicated. There are two television channels that show people playing video games 24 hours a day, like CNN for Starcraft players. There are approximately, 22,000 PC bangs that support the gaming industry worth nearly $3 billion (McCurry, 2010). However, though the laws have been loosened, there is still a government push for curbing gaming addiction (Lee, 2014). And yet, as you can see from the chart below, gaming remains on the rise. 

With focus on technology and it’s benefits to society at large by companies like Samsung and LG, the education industry of Korea, on the other hand, remains very much traditional and unchanged. High stakes testing, rote memorization, and long hours every day starting in kindergarten have been the norm in Korean schools for decades. Many educators, especially foreign born, or Koreans who have studied abroad, have been commenting on the conditions for awhile with little to no actual changes happening until recently. “The critical view of “traditional” Korean education has spurred Korean governments to introduce new reform measures intended to promote students’ creativity and student-centered education sensitive to individual diversity” (Park, 2013) because of the generally held view that creativity and intrinsic motivation for learning are lacking in Korea even though they perform at high levels on international rankings. Although the author is critical of the changes and the critiques of traditional education in Korea, this is an opportunity for implementing change in this country, especially related to student-centered education focusing on building intrinsic motivation, like a gamification model would.

My experience as a teacher and friend to Koreans, who I have talked to in the country about their schooling, has proven that education is of the utmost importance in South Korea. So much so that children are in school almost everyday for upwards of 10-12 hours a day. These students are studying all day long, and they still find the time to play games because they are so obsessed with them. As can be seen in the chart, the gaming industry shows no sign of slowing down either. The ban on late-night gaming showed no effective results. I believe that gamification, especially education game building and acceptance of gaming in schools, would solve two problems at once. It would take advantage of the love of gaming here and insert it into the education field; and it could reduce the dependence on after school programs that keep the students out late at night studying.

Taking the clear motivation of games in this country with interest in building a better way to help students learn and express creativity and 21st century literacy, this starts to look like an obvious place to implement gamification into the curriculum. So, what can we do?

As an educator in Korea, we can start to implement these changes in small increments. We are given a lot of freedom in our classes here and we can use that to get our foot in the door of change. Think locally and the ripples can have enormous effects. 



Hahn, J. (2014, Oct.). South Korea is set to unveil 10gps broadband internet. Digital Trends. Retrieved from http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/south-korea-make-world-even-jealous-10gbps-broadband/

McCurry, J. (2010, Internet addiction driving South Koreans into realms of fantasy). The Guardian July, 12, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jul/13/internet-addiction-south-korea

Lee, M.J. (2014, South Korea eases rules on kids’ late-night gaming). Wall Street Journal Sept. 2, 2014. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/korearealtime/2014/09/02/south-korea-eases-rules-on-kids-late-night-gaming/

Park, H. (2013). No matter how high your test score is, you are still bad: Korean education’s response to PISA. Revue Internationale d’education de Sevres. Retrieved from https://ries.revues.org/3749