It has been pointed out since long that the decisive defect of university education in Korea lies in the mismatch between its ‘demand and supply’. It is in its root the result of the conflict between academic education and vocational education. This essay intends to propose the ‘restoration’ of liberal arts education as the most reasonable way to resolve it. Of course this ‘restoration’ must be accompanied by the reformation of the educational system including the curriculum and academic organization.
Above all the framework of curriculum must be transformed so that ‘liberal arts education’ in the fields of basic pure disciplines is to be carried out in balance with the vocational education in the fields of applied sciences. This can meet the intellectual needs of the new ‘information society’, namely the ‘integrative, convergent’ covering multi dimensions, which leads finally to ‘creative thinking’. Also in the vocational activities there is required this ability of intelligence. The importance of liberal arts education confirms itself right here because it makes all the more decisive contribution to this ‘integrative, convergent’ thinking and insight as the basis of creative intelligence.
What is the background of these ‘new’ educational demands? It originates in the so-called ‘digital revolution’. Digital technology has developed ‘multimedia’ in the area of communication, thereby enabling ‘ubiquitous communication’. Moreover, it has created virtual reality based on the cyber space and thereby removed the temporal and spatial limitations from the natural world. Time and space are the basic forms, through which human beings experience the world. With the epoch-making revolution in the temporal and spatial experiences, it is inconceivable that there would be no change in the ways we desire the world and how we conduct to satisfy our desires. The human desires extend themselves to the pursuit of simultaneity and immediateness, and the way of satisfying it changes into the simultaneous and immediate one. The satisfaction of desire, which was possible hitherto only through taking spatial movements or temporal continuation (or waiting), becomes now possible ‘im-mediately’ without delay, meeting various different desires simultaneously.
As changes in human desires stimulate the development of new technologies, the expectation for the ‘total’ satisfaction of desire makes plural different ‘technologies’ be integrated into one. It is nowadays difficult to think about any technological development having no connection with digital technology. It is reasonable that the industrial structure should be changed accordingly, so that the integration of industries takes place in one enterprise.
As the way of life varies together with the change in the economic activities, the ‘society of knowledge’ which provides new knowledge thereto becomes varied accordingly. ‘Episteme’, traditional knowledge with universal and necessary validity, is no more the authority for the project of worldly life. The world is narrowed into a village community, where the cultural topography is characterized by relationship, diversity, and variety. As the social life is run in the form of a fluid network, the ‘hypertext’ of information confers a form to the actual life.
The amount of information becomes increased in rapid and astronomical manners, and the circulation of them bears no temporal or spatial limitations. By contrast, it is not easy to properly select the information capable of enhancing or exalting the quality of life. It is also a serious problem that the available period of valuable or useful information becomes shortened rapidly. In conclusion, the knowledge society cannot adhere to the storage and monopolization of fixed knowledge, but should open itself toward the circulation and common possession of fluid information.
As the geography of the knowledge society is changed in this way, it is natural that also the research and education at universities, taking charge of the production and circulation of knowledge, should be changed accordingly.
The principal task of education is not to deliver the students any established knowledge, but to cultivate their basic intellectual abilities: the ability of critical thinking capable of discerning or selecting the proper useful information, the ability of rational communication capable of sharing one’s own thoughts with other members of the community, and particularly, the ability of creative thinking capable of solving new problems with wide and deep insight which can be attained only through integrative synthetic thinking.
Among others, the last one is most important: one should be able to overview the whole in which the subdivided parts get its meaning. The problems to be solved in the information society are usually complex ones extended over several fields of knowledge. As the given problems are entangled with each other, the specific knowledge pieces specialized in any particular fields are useless in solving the problems, unless they are integrated under the overview of the whole. A kind of multi- and inter-disciplinary insight is required here to treat those entangled problems in the whole. It renders a wide-angled ‘bird’s eye view’ capable of taking the problematic situation comprehensively on the ‘intellectual linkage horizon’.
This new educational demand is serious and pressing, because, different from the industry era when the division of labor and specialization of knowledge increased productivity, the intellectual abilities available over various fields or disciplines are desperately needed today where the integration of technologies and industries is taking place.
The higher education in this new direction has its origin, in fact, in classical ‘liberal arts education’, the idea of which must be realized in today’s ‘Kyoyang’ education, sometimes called ‘general education’.
Considering the new educational demands above mentioned, liberal arts education is needed much more than ever because it naturally tends to cover the whole of our life, not just any parts thereof. The self-reflective thinking guides us to discern the relation between the outer world and the inner self, and reflect on our own life. It involves naturally the evaluative attitude towards our own actions, which expresses itself typically in moral deliberation on normative maxims and even on the ‘raison d’être’ of our personal life.
In view of the newly oriented higher education above mentioned, ‘Kyoyang Education’ at the universities in Korea should be reformed in many respects. Following are the main issues which are required to adjust to the new geography of the knowledge so that university education can meet the new socio-cultural demands of today. Core idea is that the ‘integrative’ study in basic pure disciplines should be carried out to foster ‘creative intelligence’. 1) The distorted and corrupted concept of ‘Kyoyang Education’ which has been conventionally accepted hitherto should be corrected so that its original meaning and identity can be properly recognized. 2) The contents of it should be improved according to the newly oriented aim of the whole university education, namely the multi-, inter-disciplinary integrative education in balance. Its academic contents must consist of, so far as possible, those of basic pure disciplines, namely humanities, basic social and natural sciences. 3) In order to implement the reformed curriculum effectively, it is desirable to reconstruct the academic organization into stratification, so that all the students, whichever major theirs may be, have to study to some degree in basic pure disciplines on which they study in applied sciences.
By Son Dong-hyun, Chair Professor, Hyehwa Liberal Arts College, Daejeon University