The barrage of shrill threats by North Korea against South Korea and the United States by its reclusive late leader Kim Jong-il often drew my attention towards the fragile peace on the Korean Peninsula.
As I pondered over these issues in the past year, my perspective changed completely with my participation in the drafting of the youth version of 2012 UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report (UNESCO EFA GMR) – Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work.
Throughout the course of our work on the report, Korea (South Korea simply referred to as Korea and officially as the Republic of Korea) always came up as an excellent model of national transformation through committed investments in Education.
Prior to the report, I had a keen interest on China’s education and national development strategy especially after watching a video of James Wolfensohn, former president of The World Bank addressing an MBA class at Stanford University.
Three decades after Korea was nearly decimated by the Korean War (1950-1953), Korea reinvented itself by making huge investments in its educational sector which resulted into its transformation.
Korea and Nigeria were at par in terms of development in the 1980’s but over the years, Korea has made giant strides in development to become a developed economy.
Today, Korea is an industrial powerhouse ranked among the fastest growing OCED economies – with an unemployment rate of 3.0% as against OECD average of 8.0% while Nigeria stands at 23.9%. Korea boasts of global companies such as Hyundai Heavy Industries, Hyundai Motors, Samsung Corporation (Electronics, Engineering and Construction), LG Electronics, POSCO, Daewoo Group (Trading, Shipbuilding, Engineering and Construction), KIA Motors, Korea Gas Corporation, SK Group, Hana and Woori Financial Groups. It is noteworthy to mention that Samsung engineering (Samsung Construction and Trading Corporation) is reputed to have built The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia, Taipei 101 in Taiwan.
Korea also has the highest household broadband penetration in the world – 97.2%. With these endearing tales and promising figures, I looked forward to visiting this tiny island nation lauded as the “Miracle on the Han River.”
In August 2013, I had the privilege of being invited to Korea by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea to receive an award as one of the winners of the global essay competition on cyberspace for the Seoul cyberspace conference 2013 and also to serve as a Youth Forum panel discussant.
The event took place at the Graduate School of International Studies at the New Millennium Hall, Yonsei University.
The Youth Forum – panel discussions were strictly academic in style and as such there was no point hosting such an event in a hotel, or an events centre as is often the case in Nigeria. Don’t get me wrong, part of Nigeria’s problems is that everything including education is highly politicised.
In civilized societies, discussions that have a lot to contribute to the growth of the country usually take place in universities including presidential debates that are political. Our universities should function as the birthplace of innovation and creativity where brilliant ideas are nurtured to become realities that drive today’s knowledge economy. It should be the cradle where leaders are and policies that help advance the wellbeing of man formulated. On the contrary, Nigeria remains a basket case in all ramifications specifically in the management of its human resources as suggested by Prof. Ben Nwabueze who posits that Nigerian universities are “a cauldron which continually emits vapours of social unrest and instability” and further describing it as a “fertile ground for social unrest and indiscipline”.
UK. As the old adage which most Nigerians have gotten accustomed to reads, ‘Rome was not built in a day’. But the leaders of today’s ‘Romes’ started from somewhere, made a conscious commitment to build their societies, which has eluded us in Nigeria as our universities have been placed on a perpetual shutdown mode as a result of the protracted industrial action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities. A post I once came across on facebook humorously described ASUU strike as an annual festival when universities unceremoniously go on break for an unknown period of time.
I believe no matter what is happening with our educational system and society today, Nigeria will be great again and stands to learn a lot from Korea’s model of economic transformation through investments in education, and as far as I know Koreans are willing to share their experience with any country that is willing and ready to learn. While we continue to urge the Nigerian government to be more responsive to its responsibility, I will continue to study the Korean model to know in which areas of our national development it could be of help in and also looking forward to another visit.
Yes, my visit to Seoul might just have been a fleeting glimpse of the city, but I’m still thrilled and look forward to exploring the city further on future visits.
Submission by Akachukwu Nnaemeka Okafor