The past and present of Korean holistic education – EunBin Lee, South Korea

Family is the first interaction that all human beings encounter in their lives. In this society, humans acquire language, culture, and habits through engaging with these people. A family is the matrix of development for maturity. In the past, this was why Korean traditional society prioritized building a family’s harmony more than anything else. They believed that a family’s happiness made it possible for other parts of society to exist, such as education. For this reason, before the school system was reestablished in the late 20th century, when Korea was still a society focused on agriculture, education in manners, technology and other practical knowledge was taught by parents. A family took the whole responsibility of educating the next generation. Therefore, it is right to believe that Korean home schooling was the Korean education system of those days.


A family from Joseon Dynasty(1392~1910AC) (Source:

The peculiarities of Korean home schooling developed in various ways that were dependent on regions and times. The main principle was ‘strict father and merciful mother”. The father judged what was right or wrong in the children’s behavior with clear moral standards, while mothers tried to adopt an attitude of understanding towards her kids though they behaved amorally. Mothers had the role of consulting personal matters with her children. Today, however, the Korean education system has been weakened by nuclear familiarization and high information industrialization. People try to entrust the task of building children’s fine characters, sculpting courtesy and even forming good habits to schools, which should be taught in families. Even though the Korean home schooling system emphasized different materials as centuries fly, the principle of parents being teachers of their children was always consistent.

A father teaching his sons how to shoot an arrow (Source:

A father working with his sons (Source:

The subject Korean ancestors prioritized and invested more time on was ‘courtesy, law, and Tao’. Koreans use the Chinese word for courtesy: “In” 仁. This Chinese character symbolizes humbleness, generosity and mercy). It was important for them to study how to shape benevolent personalities and acquire world logic. The old and most popular books “Samguksa” and “Classic of Mountains and Seas”, were written in the period of the Three States: Goguryeo, Baekje, Sinra (57~668BC and ruled over the Korean peninsula, including major territory in China).


The Book of Samguksa

It is said that Koreans “consider others even while hunting animals and never fought over anything”, and “when two people met on a street, they stopped and peacefully made a way for counterparts.” This indicates what the old society thought was the most important. Mastering In (仁) was the goal of their education. According to them, In (仁) was applied when people served one another. It invented one’s happiness and promoted harmony of a community. Also, In (仁) created passion for knowledge, for it inspired people to deeply think about the world and what it was made of. Discovering science, math, literacy and other subsidiary subjects derived from this curiosity. Therefore, In (仁) was what motivated the country’s development.

Several students and a teacher from the Joseon Dynasty. The teacher and punished student are having a sad look while the rest are laughing silently. Koreans tried to make class sizes as small as possible so it could be possible for a teacher to take care of each child. (Source:

The society was then willing to train women, as they knew that the children’s future depended on mothers’ education. A curriculum that included chastity, fidelity, a sense of virtue, confidence, and courtesy individually was made for women alone. Women from the Koryo Dynasty (918~1392) learned to care for infants, cooking, and knitting. Those of the upper class could additionally enjoy writing and reading. There was a time when women were deprived of rights to learn or teach. After the Joseon Dynasty introduced Confucianism as its religion, which was misconstrued by the government, a massive gender inequality took place. Women obeyed her husband, who took entire responsibility for children’s education. Plebs compulsively granted their roles in community according to sex, and women were excluded from many roles. Korean society recuperated women’s freedom when western culture was introduced in the 20th century. It is interesting that no matter how the history of Korean women education system has changed, people were always aware that it was women who decided the fate of the next generation.


A mother

Old Korea classified its citizens by sex and taught fixed subjects. Some people found it impartial, especially women from the Joseon Dynasty, for they could not freely exhibit their talents. This had to be changed. Fortunately, the image of gender roles has weakened, and modern society now encourages students to develop their interests and potential, regardless of sex. Still, we must recognize that the old system of parents dividing their roles to teach children was effective and formed harmony in a family. Regular communications with parents thrilled children, as they learned much from those who lived longer and found reasons of studying.

  Today, families that impose the historic educational norms are rare. Students have more exposure and are therefore educated through mass media, rather than being solely taught by the adults in their family. Parents tend to rely on schools to teach what should be learned at home, for they think only professionals are eiligible to teach children. Schools are now being held accountable, but it is well-acknowledged that they cannot give lessons in etiquette or moral education. As a result, no one is teaching the next generation what morality In (仁) is.

Korean students studying College entrance exam(2014-11-07)


Education of modern society is not aimed at the warm-hearted and generous community that In (仁) creates, but instead teaches knowledge about survival and wealth. It is common sense that knowledge creates wealth,  but people currently are not understanding that morality motivates one’s happiness, relationships, and volition. Building an moral personality used to be the purpose of home education, and this was made by communication among family members. Sadly, due to busy parents and students, communication among families has dramatically lessened. Sometimes parents’ moral teachings are interrupted by those who misinterpret the true meaning of ‘children rights’. Outward society often ignores the fact that parents have the right to talk to and educate their own children on morals and goals.

The world is hungry for a peace. People want to serve one another, which is why subjects such as morality and life orientation exist in all countries. Teaching morality, however, can be achieved only personally by parents in families. This is the original purpose for a family. Parents are educators and decide the destiny of the next generation. Let schools teach knowledge, and parents teach wisdom of living. It is time to recover broken family relationships through the home schooling system. It is time to adopt a new goal of education that has been ignored for decades.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s