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[Editorial] Underdeveloped Vocational Education

Posted July. 14, 2009 09:13,   


Ninety-five percent of high school students in Korea say they have never had a chance to take vocational training at industrial workplaces. In comparison, 96.5 percent of workers in Finland said they did get such training, 84.7 percent in Britain, 87.15 percent in Denmark, and 79.3 percent in Sweden. A study by the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training found that Korea is one of the worst countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in student participation at job fairs, entrepreneur lectures and visits to companies, which suggest they need more exposure to diverse work experiences. Most students in Korea decide on careers without even looking at worksites.

Korean college students seek to enter any university regardless of major due to lack of career education, so it is easy to find students who fail to decide on their career paths even after graduating. Quite a few students remain at 4-year universities for five to six years due to overseas language study and job search preparations. Certain university graduates quit their jobs one or two years later and reenter school to try other majors or go overseas to study, to the chagrin of their parents. Such a practice not only results in wasting valuable time at the individual level, but also leads to losses of human resources at the national level.

Among applicants for street cleaner positions at a Seoul district office, more than 37 percent had associate degrees or higher. One even held a Ph.D. in physics. This exemplifies the trend of people seeking jobs lower than their educational levels, which results from a glut of college graduates. Last year, 83.8 percent of high school students entered college, a huge leap from 51.4 percent in 1995. This was apparently caused by an educational policy in which the government expanded opportunities for higher education but was negligent in vocational education.

Korea tops the world in the number of people “not in education, employment or training who do not or have no intent to work even after graduating college,” while the average age of new hires at conglomerates is increasing. These trends also result from a lack of vocational education. While companies complain over a lack of qualified employees, a growing number of youth have nowhere to work. Korea cannot afford to let this damaging trend go on unchecked.

Korean students have shown stellar academic performance in the world, ranking first in language, second in math, and seventh in science. They lack understanding about vocational aptitude and the reality of the job market, however. A society in which students can work upon graduation from college is fast changing in line with technological development. Jobs that were popular yesterday could decline or even disappear, while new jobs unheard of in the past could appear in the future when these students will become the main workforce.