Collaboration of Reading Class at School
and the Publishing Industry
The Impact of the "Reading One Book in a Semester" Program
Before discussing Korean schools' reading education, “Reading One Book in a Semester” should come first. The program “Reading a Book in a Semester” is an educational method in the National Curriculum Revised in 2015. It is about reading a book a semester during Korean classes. This methodology was first applied to 3rd and 4th graders of elementary school and first-year students in middle and high school in 2018. From 2020, it was expanded to students from grades 3 to 12.
Generally, “Reading One Book in a Semester” is conducted in around 12 to 17 classes per semester for Korean courses. Time for reading and relevant activities are included during the regular curriculum. Reading the same book in a group of 4 or 5 is the most common activity. Reading books in different ways comes next. Sometimes the whole class reads the same book. Teachers suggest between 5 to 15 books, and students select books they like from the list. Reading activities include the following: “Reading Diary” that summarizes the book; “Book Review” that writes about one's thoughts about the book; “Having a Dialogue” on Books that records the discussion made in a group after reading the same book; “Conducting Interviews” on Books that writes a report on a person selected to interview after reading a book on the person.
Characteristics of Korean educational culture: Textbook-based class
Korean schools still tend to run classes with textbooks reviewed and approved by the state. In the 2000s, the Ministry of Education officially directed teachers to help students reach the Standard set in the National Educational Curriculum by using various class materials. Twenty years have passed since then, but too many are still dependent on textbooks.
The textbook-based class is highly relevant to Korea's modernization process, which was affected by Japan's colonization of Korea, the Korean War, and military dictatorship. When Korea was liberated in 1945, the right to education became one of the fundamental rights of Korean citizens. Confucianism was deeply rooted in Korean society, which led people to have a burning desire for education. In the countryside, it was even expected for a farmer to sell his cows, a means of livelihood, to send children off to universities. The Korean government also emphasized education and built many schools but lacked qualified teachers. For that matter, teachers assigned to schools after a short period of training programs relied on textbooks that summarized advanced countries' knowledge, culture, and technologies. From 1961 to 1987, generals of the military forces took power and ruled under dictatorship. Like in George Orwell's 1984, authoritarian governments wanted to control citizens. Therefore, the government struck down teachers who used materials other than textbooks for classes.
However, the successful result of the civil uprising led Korea to be a democratic country in 1987, and the political change came along with rapid economic growth. In the mid-1990s, economic competition among countries heated up, and the Presidential Education Reform Committee was established to discuss ways to strengthen national competitiveness through education. It led to the 5.31 Education Reform Program being born in 1995. Korea developed under a single standard of schooling until the reform. The reform suggested a new educational direction to build a brighter future for the nation through diverse and more individualized education.
As Kim Dae-Jung, the first Nobel prize laureate of Korea, became the president in 1998, his administration implemented policies on literary arts more actively than in the past. Improving school reading classes was part of the Kim Dae-Jung administration's educational efforts. Before that time, libraries were considered storage spaces for schools. For ten years, from 1998 to 2008, as Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo–Hyun were the presidents, school libraries were built to function in all schools. The policy established on spending 3% of the school's expense budget on buying books is sustained. It continued until 2017, when Lee Myung-Bak and Park Geun-Hye, conservative party members, were the presidents of Korea. The Ministry of Education released the manual on reading books during classes, including Korean, English, Mathematics, Social Studies, Science, Korean History, and Art. Teachers nationwide were trained to follow the manual. There are 17 city and provincial offices of education in Korea, and each office has a training center. All the centers include reading instruction as the introductory course.
Currently, the books students read during school classes are recorded in school reports of course activities, and the record is used as a reference point for college entrance.
Educational activities in school and responses of the publishing industry
Until the 1990s, the list of recommended books for students consisted mainly of Western white middle-class male writers' books. Japan learned the Western culture, and the list of recommended books was called World Literature. The list was sustained for 50 years, even after Korea earned its independence. However, the tendency changed in 2000. Teachers rose to let students read books from the same era, not classics. Also, students should read books they can comprehend, not the ones famous but hard to read. The movement was well-received among teachers, changing the school-recommended books by 2010.
The Korean publishing industry was hit directly by the change. Growth novels of many countries were translated, and the ones written by Korean writers were published. Once books written by Korean writers were recommended in schools, there came famous writers in children and youth literature. The writers were often invited to schools to lecture. The market for adolescents was the new one to rise as there were only markets for children and adults for the publishing industry. Over time, the adolescent market firmly established itself in the industry.
The more reading education for classes became active among teachers, the more the publishers printed books. Children's stories were released on various topics for elementary school students, and liberal arts books were released in multiple fields. Fun and interesting books on diverse topics were written to meet the level of reading of middle school students. Some academic books on social studies were designed and published for high school students. What stands out among them are growth novels, poems, and the selection of literary works for middle and high school students. These books are widely read in middle and high schools. The books reflect Korean culture, like the drama "Squid Game" or the movie "Parasite." Students' concerns, such as lookism, friendship, bullying, school violence, racial discrimination, homosexuality, gender, school grades, part-time jobs, and career, are the contents of the books.
According to a study on how Korean students choose books, teachers' recommendation is the most influential factor. As books recognized by teachers or the ones in the school's recommended book list are sold well, Korean publishers try hard to publish good-quality books.
Implementation of the “Reading One Book in a Semester” program built the foundation for publishers to release good-quality books, and it gave chances for students to read diverse books.
“Reading One Book in a Semester” is the most recent government policy that affected publishers. Before the method was introduced, reading education was a recommendation, and reading was only for teachers interested in reading as an educational method. With the introduction of the program to the National Educational Curriculum, reading classes became introductory courses for all teachers who teach Korean. The introduction of "Reading One Book in a Semester" is a policy that has had a significant influence on the education sector as the government's approach tends to have a considerable impact in Korea. While the total count for reading of the population decreased due to the widespread use of smartphones and easy Internet access, the policy was the best that the Korean government could do as an educational policy to promote the reading culture.
Once “Reading One Book in a Semester” was introduced in 2018, the publishing industry welcomed the news as if it saw the rainfall during the drought. Publishers that printed children's books saw their revenue recover as if the Renaissance was back. Once a publisher publishes a decent book, many prints of the book are purchased by the school, stabilizing the publisher's financial situation, and building the foundation for the publisher to find another good book to publish. As a result, many publishers plan and release books on diverse topics for middle and high school Korean classes for the “Reading One Book in a Semester” program. In turn, experts in various fields of Korea have opportunities to write. With books in diverse areas, students can read more books related to diverse fields. As a result, a virtuous cycle is formed where the entire culture becomes abundant.
The 2021 Winter Reading List recommended by Teachers Who Make the World Warm with Books.
My Name is Cuckoo, A Very Private Walk in the Palace, and My House is a Planetarium,
each published by Little Mountain, Nol, and Wisdom House, respectively.
Three years after passing the teacher test and being appointed a teacher, Korean teachers receive first-class teacher training. When he was first appointed as a teacher, he was a second-class teacher, and after receiving the aforementioned three-year training, he became a first-class teacher. The 17 City and Provincial Education Training Centers run a first-class teacher training course. In addition, the Korean language curriculum includes the "Reading One Book a Semester" program. Teachers receive education on reading classes and evaluation methods, such as Writing Book Reviews, Dialogue on Books, Oral Evaluation on Books, and apply the training to school. Suppose you are interested in Korea's reading class. In that case, I recommend reading from a portal site, Naver (www.naver.com), searching the following in Korean: “서평 쓰기” (Writing Book Reviews), “책 대화하기” (Having a Dialogue on Books), “독서 구술평가” (Oral Evaluation on Books), and “한 학기 한 권 읽기” (Reading One Book in a Semester). If you search for the keyword, you will see articles that several teachers have posted on blogs regarding their classes, and you can see what reading education in Korea looks like. Unfortunately, there is a problem with translation because the postings are written in Korean. Still, you will understand the overall meaning by using the translation provided by the web browser.
School reading education was something only a few interested teachers used to do, but now all the teachers use it in their curriculum. Reading class is obligatory in Korean classes, and it is based on the individual choice of a teacher. Nowadays, reading books is recommended regardless of the course. In line with the changes in public education, publishers are designing and printing books with good content and easy-to-read for students. If you want to learn about the books Korean teachers recommend to students, visit Teachers Who Make the World Warm with Books (www.readread.or.kr) or Mulkkobang under the Reading Education Branch of the Korean Language Teachers Association (www.naramal.or.kr) to see the list of recommended books. In addition, you can find the relevant material by searching “물꼬방 추천도서” (Books Recommended by Mulkkobang) or “책따세 추천도서” (Books Recommended by Teachers Who Make The World Warm with Books) on the Internet.
Written by Song Seung-Hun (Member of Mulkkobang under the Reading Education Branch of the Korean Language Teachers Association)
Song Seung-Hun (Member of Mulkkobang under the Reading Education Branch of the Korean Language Teachers Association)