Degree Name

MA in Social Justice in Intercultural Relations

First Advisor

Janaki Natarajan


The history of South Korean education has been turbulent and contentious among its citizenry in the six decades since the country’s inception. Following Japanese colonial rule the political and governmental affairs of the country remained largely in the hands of the Japanese sympathizers making up South Korea’s ruling class at the time, which included the formation and administration of the education system. The United States, having had an integral role in the creation and development of the South Korean state, also influenced the trends and design models used to enact education reform, especially since military rule ended in 1993. This political transition in South Korea signaled the arrival of neoliberal economic policies and the evolution of the school reform movement from the previously promoted standard of equal education for students to a system valuing competition above all else. This paper examines the particular role of neoliberal political ideology in schools and how it has impacted education for students and professional freedom for teachers. In doing so, it attempts to answer the question: How have the legacy of a colonial education system and more recent neoliberal reforms in South Korea affected teachers and students? Through a series of interviews with members of the Korean Teachers’ and Educational Workers’ Union (KTU) and students in a private girls high school in Seoul, it deals with themes of hierarchy in schools, heightened competition, the loss of labor rights, political rifts and the increasing disparity in educational opportunity. It is argued that neoliberal reform policies, heightened under the Lee Myung-bak administration, have been detrimental to the formation of an independent and egalitarian South Korean education system and have damaged the teachers’ movement for democratic control of schools.


Curriculum and Social Inquiry | International and Comparative Education


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