Korea’s vocational education, more than any other educational field, changed dramatically along with the national economic development, and continues to change today.
From the 1960s to 1980s, during Korea’s industrialization period, vocational education made significant contributions in terms of supplying industrial manpower. Vocational education graduates increased continuously from 47,000 in 1965 to 201,000 in 1980, and to 274,000 in 1990, and their employment share increased from 35.5% to 51.1% and to 76.6%, respectively. In terms of employment among the new graduates, the share of vocational education graduates steadily increased each year, from 24.4% in 1965 to 46.6% in 1975 and to over 50% during the 1980s. During the industrialization period, vocational high schools supplied more labor force than any other educational institution.
This study analyzed three national strategies through which vocational high schools played a pivotal role in supplying manpower during the industrialization period. The first strategy was centralized planning strategy. Korea’s vocational education was enforced as an important part of the national strategy for economic development, and along with the Five-Year Economic Development Plans, which started from 1962, a manpower supply
plan and policies related to education and training were legislated and executed. Second was the strategy for industry and education cooperation. Especially in the 1970s, when the government pushed for the promotion of the heavy and chemical industry, investment on vocational high schools expanded to produce technical manpower necessary for the heavy and chemical industry, including specialized technical high schools. Last strategy is effective financial strategy. Korea’s investment in education shifted from elementary, middle, and high schools (both conventional and vocational), to universities, along with economic development. It is especially important to note that in 1977, when the promotion of heavy and chemical industry was peaking, budgets for vocational education were increased up to the same level as higher education. Furthermore, resources were acquired from private schools and educational loans from foreign countries.
To examine major policies by periods, the 1960s was when momentum for the manpower development plan was developed as a part of the economic development plan. Although the trend in the public was to worship academics and avoid vocational education, the government created the basis of vocational education system through centralized planning.
In the 1970s, President Park Chung-hee strongly pushed for the heavy and chemical industry, and under the leadership of O Won Chul, the leader of Council for Heavy and Chemical Industry, strategies to strengthen vocational education were implemented. As a part of this strategy, the Specialization Initiatives at Technical High School (SITHS) was enforced from 1973. In the 1980s, an economic stabilization policy was implemented after the economic crisis in 1980. Social development, including education, was emphasized along with economic growth. The vocational education system was reorganized. Also, the MOE changed the direction of education from simply responding to short-term industrial demand to increasing the worker’s adaptability to the technology changes in the long-term.
This study especially focuses on SITHS during 1970s. These initiatives were an exemplary case representing the close partnership between industrial policy and manpower policy. Through twin policies, the government divided schools into four categories by geographical locations and school characteristics, and prioritized investment in technical high schools that would play a leading role in the process of industrialization. Furthermore, the government expanded the infrastructure of vocational education by establishing the National Technical Qualifications System, enforcing mandatory fields for students in vocational educational institutions, and creating an industry-education cooperation system. We hope that this study will provide many important implications to policymakers in developing countries through various policy examples illustrating the significance of vocational education in the process of industrialization.