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Human Capital and Development

Lessons and Insights from Korea's Transformation

Ju-Ho Lee, Hyeok Jeong and Song Chang Hong

During recent decades, Korea has been one of only a handful of countries that have made the successful transformation to become a developed nation by simultaneously achieving persistent economic growth combined with a democratic political system. Experts and political leaders worldwide have attributed this achievement to investments in people or, in other words, the power of education. Whilst numerous books have highlighted the role of industrial policies, technological growth, and international trade in Korea’s development process, this is one of the first to focus on the role of human capital. It shows how the accumulation of human capital aided transformation and helps explain the policies, strategies and challenges that Korea faces now and in the future.
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Ju-Ho Lee, Hyeok Jeong and Song Chang Hong

“If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.” This oftcited Korean proverb is more than a slogan. Indeed, the history of Korea’s development makes clear that a meaningful and sustained commitment to investing in education can unleash the human potential that makes economic miracles possible. What is more, an education provides hope and gives individuals – and in the case of Korea an entire country – the confidence to charge into an unknowable future.

Education is a fundamental human right, and delivering this promise is the civil rights struggle of our generation. And the right of education for girls – free from exploitation, child marriage, labor and slavery – that is the freedom fight of our generation. Far too many children today are deprived of a quality education. In all, a quarter of a billion children are out of school. And if present trends hold, by 2030, more than 800 million children – half a generation of young people – will be out of school or failing to learn the most basic skills.

The International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, on which I serve as Chair, is a group of education advocates – former heads of state and government, Nobel Laureates, ministers, business and civil society leaders – united in a common cause to develop a financing roadmap that will ensure every child is in school and learning. The Commission benefited tremendously from Dr. Ju-Ho Lee’s leadership and insights from his years as the Korean Minister of Education, Science and Technology. Dr. Lee’s unwavering commitment to delivering an education to all and his critical analysis of factors that can help accelerate progress, many of which are described in this book, were instrumental to the Commission’s work.

Unlocking the next stage of global growth depends upon our ability to deliver an education to all children. Without doubt, education and rising opportunities are two forces that are inextricably linked. Korea’s post-war experience developing knowledge-based assets, unlocking potential and harnessing talent proves the power of this truth. And Dr. Lee is the perfect ambassador to carry this lesson of history and message of hope.

I want to congratulate Dr. Ju-Ho Lee and his colleagues Professor Hyeok Jeong and Dr. Song Chang Hong on this remarkable book. At a time when the global community seeks to rise to – and meet – the Sustainable Development Goal promise, a book such as this is certain to hasten our efforts and inspire further action. The message this text carries, that when leaders invest in the creation of knowledge through universal education and skills development innovation and economic growth will follow, cannot be ignored. Korea is a fitting example of, and testament to, this truth.

We can be the first generation in history where every child is in school and learning. Those who read this book are sure to be inspired to action.

Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown

United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and

former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom