Learning from the Past – Understanding the Present – Preparing for the Future
Next steps for the Understanding Korea Project
A view from the UK relating to teaching and learning in history
The background – learning from the past
Since its inception in 2003 the Understanding Korea Project (UKP) has done much to raise the profile of Korea around the world. Its strategy has been well crafted and has revolved around two key strands, namely identifying inaccuracies in textbooks published outside Korea and disseminating knowledge about Korea to groups of textbook specialists. This strategy has had considerable impact in that it has led to a series of misconceptions being identified and highlighted and to a number of non-Korean textbook writers visiting South Korea to experience the country at first hand. However, it is now time to take the UKP to a new level and to expect more from your visitors and demand more from authors and publishers.
The issue – understanding the present
The work of the UKP has been successful in that inaccuracies have been corrected, notably in the identification and naming of the East Sea. In addition, textbook writers have learned much through lectures to strengthen their knowledge of all aspects of Korean culture, visits to sites of historic interest and of national importance and, most importantly, experiences of aspects of South Korea’s economic vitality. In effect, the UKP has pursued a policy of total immersion so that all these visitors have gone home with a much greater knowledge and understanding of Korea, its people and its culture, and its importance in the modern world. Some have responded by including additional references in their books to Korean history and culture. However, such an approach relies entirely on other people reacting positively to the contact they have had with the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS). Colleagues working on the UKP have little control over how people abroad respond to the points that have been made once they are back home in their own country and the pressures of their daily work take precedence.
The proposal – preparing for the future
It is now highly appropriate for the UKP to evolve from relying on others to act to taking the initiative itself. It is opportune for the UKP to reach out in a much more direct way and so have an even greater impact beyond the Korean peninsula. This new strategy for the next stage of the UKP should revolve around two principal strands, namely:
- creating substantial major study units which could be used by teachers around the world to explain to pupils what was happening in the Korean peninsula at various points in time;
- developing minor thematic units which compare and contrast what was happening in Korea with what was occurring elsewhere across the world.
There is every reason to believe that colleagues who have participated in textbook fellowships would be willing to engage in joint working with colleagues at AKS and use their new knowledge to create new resources which would enable the history and culture of Korea to be more easily covered and integrated into their current schemes of learning. Much work has already been undertaken and the excellent resources available on the UKP’s website could be adapted so that they are more readily usable by teachers in classrooms for pupils between the ages of 5 and 18. ‘InfoKorea 2016’, for example, has an excellent section on ‘Life in the Joseon Royal Palace’, the content of which could be used to create at least one off-the-shelf teaching pack. The point is that many detailed resources already exist – the task is to adapt what is currently available to match the needs of teachers around the world.
Strand 1: creating substantial major units of study
Korean history is rich in events, people and themes for study. However, the best way forward is to identify specific aspects which can be used effectively by teachers in the UK, and across the world, to illustrate what was specifically happening at a particular time period in Korea. For example, a scheme of work could focus on what was happening in Korea during the Goryeo period. Between 918 and 1392 Korea underwent a process of unification, fluctuating effective government, commercial expansion, and deep religious influence, as well as military invasion. During this same period England underwent similar developments with the arrival of the Normans and the establishment of a new dynasty. Pupils in the UK could alternatively study the Joseon period in overview and focus on why this dynasty lasted so long. Fruitful study could also be had of the impact of invasions with a focus on why Korea experienced more invasions between the 1st Century CE and the late 19th Century than England. One key feature of this work is that it would help reinforce the important message that, although it is immensely significant, the history of Korea is not just about what happened in the 20th and at the start of the 21st centuries.
Strand 2: developing minor ‘compare and contrast’ thematic units
The idea behind this proposal is to create brief snapshots of Korean history which link directly with similar and different events in the UK and to which pupils could make comparisons and draw out contrasts. Here would be wonderful opportunities to establish Korea’s leading role, for example, in developing moveable metal type well before it was used in Europe. In a similar way, pupils could learn of the advances in naval technology and warfare with the ‘turtle ship’ compared to how naval battles in Europe at that time were conducted in the main by wooden sailing vessels. Pupils could also research why people in the UK and Korea, in roughly the same time periods, erected dolmen or buried their kings in similar-looking earth mounds surrounded by their precious possessions. They could also look at how different cultures wish to reflect on the impact of war through the theme of remembrance. Using information adapted from ‘The Korean House’ (Understanding Korea Series Book No. 5), for example, pupils could compare how and why houses, including royal houses, have changed over time. They could also investigate why it took nearly 900 years for Britain to have a civil series based on merit compared with Korea which had one before 1000 CE. In effect, there are numerous opportunities for creating succinct compare and contrast units of study.
Next steps for the Understanding Korea Project
There are a number of positive reasons why the UKP should be more proactive in broadening the teaching of wider world and especially Korean history. Pupils should know about Korean history – it has a right to be studied as part of the process of giving young people as complete a picture as possible of the past. They must understand how and why the world has evolved as it has, and such work brings us together by exemplifying what we have in common rather than what keeps us apart. In addition, and especially at this current time, knowing more about Korean history will help us all confront what is, and what is not, fake news.
In teaching Korean history, teachers face several practical challenges. In the UK, there is a lack of knowledge of some parts of the world and their history. Areas like Korea before the 20th Century have never been covered in historical depth before, so there is no tradition of teaching about it. There is also a lack of accessible and appropriate resources for teachers, and pressure of time means teachers find it difficult to update themselves on new materials and topics.
As a result, the UKP has the opportunity and the experience to fill that gap; in effect, to suggest units for study and to provide appropriate resources for teachers to use in classrooms. Such a strategy would move the UKP from being reactive and reliant on others to being proactive and the initiator of new work. It is time for the UKP to motivate the rest of the world even more to learn about Korea and to provide the means to achieving that. Over the last fifteen year the AKS has shown it has the skills and experience to have an impact across the world; now there is the opportunity to secure the future direction of the UKP with an innovative mission, one which is well captured by Hyundai in its motto, ‘New thinking’ leads to ‘New Possibilities’. It is to be hoped that the UKP now takes up this challenge so that a substantially enriched and enhanced legacy will be celebrated at the 20th anniversary in 2023.
(Country of Activity : United Kingdom)