Friday was a day of reunions beginning with Dr. Kyung Hi Kim, Professor of Lifelong Learning at Kyungnam University in southern Korea. Kyung was the conference director for the International Conference on Lifelong Learning held in 2007 in Chongwon, with my past involvement in the international scholar’s subconference at Chongwon. We had a special lunch and then navigated by taxi across Seoul (significant traffic all the time) to the western side of the center of Seoul. She introduced me to her undergraduate university, Ewaha University – the largest women’s university in Asia with a current enrollment of 20,000. The campus is built on hills, with beautiful architecture – both Gothic and contemporary. After a tour of the campus, we visited KCER – the Korean Conference on Educational Research – somewhat similar to AERA in the United States. It was held in one of their education buildings. Their theme this year was “The Convergence of Knowledge and Methodology.” Unfortunately, the conference was totally in Korean language, so I met a number of noted education scholars – but did not take active participation in the sessions. The lack of Korean has been a serious detractor to the visit – but most everyone knows and can speak excellent English. It has been a lifesaver.
Kyung shared an afternoon tea at a traditional Korean tea house (the tea was called Sendak) and then we meet for dinner with Dr. Shinil Kim, former Prime Minister of Education. Now retired, Shinil was the leading professor in lifelong learning in Korea and was a member of Seoul National University. Shinil has been a colleague for many years-- with past meetings together in the US, Korea, and Taiwan. He was instrumental in establishing the national framework of lifelong learning and was an active supporter of Learning Cities. In fact, I was introduced to this concept of a Learning City at Chongwon – two years ago. Throughout the world, learning cities have become a social movement to support lifelong learning endeavors by communities and supported by municipalities, states/provinces, and in Korea by the national government. The government has established criteria for cities to qualify for learning city status. Upon meeting these criteria, the government provides special recognition and funding for their efforts. Each year, there is a national conference and individual subgroups – such as traditional Korean cultural arts groups, youth science programs, senior citizen clubs, professional association projects, etc, receive awards for the best project in the nation. He continues to view lifelong learning and adult education as of primary importance for the future of Korea and its citizens. Because of the highly competitive nature of Korea, there is a strong Confucian belief in creating balance – thus learning should be both instrumental and expressive. Not surprising to this understanding, we spent much of dinner discussing Confucian beliefs of learning and of life harmony. Fascinating conversation! In particular, Korean educational leaders have begun to focus many of their current lifelong learning policies on the out of schooling--the shadow curriculum of family, community, parent’s education, work efforts; and of the importance of adult learning in varied venues and forms as paramount for the future vitality of Korea.