Under the guise of the turbulent political nature of the Korean Peninsula, an issue that affects all socioeconomic classes in South Korea has not garnered too much attention. Nevertheless, these recent market developments have proven too pervasive to continue to neglect, contributing to the alarming issue of youth unemployment. According to the 2017 update of the Young Workers Index, the unemployment rate for citizens aged 15 to 24 is 10.7 percent, and this trend does not bode well for this proportion of the population. Although it modestly ranks tenth among the OECD’s 35 members, this rate has been increasing since the third quarter of 2012, while the US, Japan, Germany, and France have all demonstrated signs of improvement from similar cases of adversity. The sorry state of Korea’s youth—the next generation of innovators in a nation known for its technology industry—has suggested one simple fact: major reform is essential to revitalize the nation’s poor economic state.
Last March, the Blue House released plans to create and fund an extra federal budget solely dedicated to halting this pernicious trend, by, for instance, subsidizing companies that make efforts to employ the youth. This narrow-minded, short-term solution, however, will be unable to halt the increasing rate of youth unemployment, for I would argue that its roots are more ingrained in Korea’s culture than one might expect.
Instead, we must first recognize that the manner in which the youth are reared in Korea is problematic, particularly in terms of education. Our system of education has revolved around the outcome-centric dynamic of functionalism, which nurtures children to prioritize the ends over the means, often promoting rote memorization as opposed to critical thinking. Placing an undeniable emphasis on standardized tests and numbers that result from them, Korea’s education places its students in a precarious position, disillusioning them to believe that one path to success is the only one. Functionalism has been the bane of our youth.
In addition, the times are changing, and some of the specialized skills in STEM-related subjects could prove pointless in the future. Studies by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimate that by the early 2030s, 30 percent of jobs in OECD countries will be at risk of automation, primarily those pertaining to manufacturing and data-related activities. Research in the Journal of Human Resources came to a dark conclusion for our functionalist youth: those who complete career-oriented programs struggle more to adjust to changing economies, despite the short-term benefits of employment.
Therefore, an alternative approach to education must be embraced: liberalism. A general education, which would constantly expose students to various subjects and disciplines, should become the crux of future public policies. It is the best method in fostering the “creative and social intelligence” needed to differentiate humans from machines and maintain economic sustenance. By prioritizing the means over the ends, students will ultimately develop a diverse array of interests, knowledge, and skills that will enable them to become the broad-minded leaders of tomorrow. Anxious to secure a stable income and lifestyle, students can understandably find liberalism inefficient and unrewarding. However, it is this narrow-mindedness regarding the present that could lead to devastating effects in the future. As Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”