Monday, July 31, 2006

Problems with the Korean Education System: Education Minister Kim Byong-joon

Minister of Education
(Image from July 27th issue of The Korea Times)

In last Thursday's Korea Times (July 27, 2006), "Minister Admits Bungle: Kim Apologizes for Publishing Thesis Twice," staff reporter Park Chung-a informed us that:

Kim Byong-joon, deputy prime minister and minister of education and human resources development, on Thursday apologized for having published identical research papers in academic journals .... He admitted that he published identical papers in two journals as if they were separate papers under a government-funded research project, when he was a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul in 2001. This double publication of a single paper was not intended to get state research funding twice, he said. "Printing the same paper twice is my fault although I believe my assistant made a mistake in helping me process the research paper,'" the minister nominee told reporters on Thursday.

I don't know Kim Byong-joon personally, nor am I familiar with his work, but I suppose that anybody can bungle and publish a paper twice ... though I, for one, have enough trouble publishing a paper a single time. That's probably why I don't get much academic notice -- learning experts say that educators should make a point of repeating themselves to ensure that their students get the point.

I think that we must be getting the point by now, for in Saturday's JoongAng Daily (July 29, 2006), "Kim accused of cheating at least three more times," Park Seung-hee and Ser Myo-ja reported that:

Besides the one he already admitted, Deputy Prime Minister for Education Kim Byong-joon resubmitted at least three other research papers as if they were new works, a JoongAng Ilbo investigation has found.

For instance:

While serving as a Kookmin University professor, Mr. Kim published a paper in August 1998 with the Korea Regional Political Science Association on the civic groups' influence on policymaking. One year later, he published the same paper with the university's social science research institute, carrying a slightly reworded title. The two papers' contents were identical. Mr. Kim used Chinese characters in the title for the first publication, and Korean in the latter.

Kim should receive an opportunity to defend himself -- and I won't make any accusations since I know only what I read in the funny papers -- but I do want to focus upon the attitude of one official:

With mounting pressure, the Blue House held a meeting yesterday, hosted by the Chief of Staff Lee Byung-wan, where it concluded the issue was not serious enough to fire [Kim] .... "Mr. Kim denied he had committed self-plagiarism and he also apologized for the discrepancy," a senior Blue House official said. "Since it has been a common practice among scholars in Korea in the past, I don't think the matter is serious enough to let him go."

According to this anonymous "senior Blue House official," self-plagiarism -- which Kim Byong-joon denies having committed -- has not been considered a serious academic offense in Korea and is therefore no reason to bar an individual from holding the office of Education Minister.

Regardless of Kim's innocence or guilt, the attitude that plagiarism -- even if 'only' self-plagiarism -- presents no serious breach of academic ethics is very problematic. The younger generation of Korean scholars would not agree, and I suspect that the Blue House will soon come around to this younger generation's point of view.

But the point may bear repeating before the Blue House gets the point.

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At 12:01 AM, Blogger Jessica said...

I knew of an anthropologist who was practically blacklisted from the academic world because she'd been accused of plagiarizing herself. She changed her name after a divorce and spent much of her time trying to convince peers that she was still the same person.

At 5:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Do you mean that after her divorce and change of name, people thought that she was a different scholar plagiarizing the work that she had done under her married name?

How ironic.

Anyway, plagiarism is still so widespread here in Korea that it's not the career-killer that it would be in the States.

The Korean scholarly world is entirely too lax about footnotes. They often even excise many of my footnotes, without first informing me, because they consider so many footnotes to be unnecessary. I worry that some of these excisions could pose problems for me since they leave unidentified some of my sources. It's really annoying ... and potentially disruptive of my career.

Fortunately, I have no career to disrupt.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:35 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

He should be transferred to the Department of Redundancy Department.

Academics are a little anal about all this footnoting and referencing and attribution nonsense. In the corporate world, nothing gets signed and everything gets copied. Replication and recombination are the only laws honored. Don't shadeyereyes, plagiarize!

Nevertheless, I imagine that the Minister was aware, and that he knew such things effect the reputations of journals. He overstretched, imposing his judgment over that of the publication. Then he lied about it. Can it really be OK in Korean culture to cheat the recipient of a product?

At 1:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JJ Mollo, if you shop in Korea, you'd better follow the old adage "Buyer beware!" Caveat emptor!

And in academics, there really is a lot of plagiarism. Younger scholars are beginning to change that, but they still -- out of Confucian respect -- have to defer to their older colleagues.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:52 PM, Blogger Jeonuchi, W. W. said...

That's bullshit. The duplicate submission could not have been unintentional.

At 11:53 PM, Blogger Jeonuchi, W. W. said...

I was referring to his saying "I believe my assistant made a mistake in helping me process the research paper." A standard excuse.

At 4:08 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

G. M. Ballack, I agree -- it is B.S. (note the acronym, just in case my mom Googles my blog).

I don't think that anyone believed Kim Byong-joon, but I have to be circumspect in what I say since I'm an academic in Korea.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It’s hardly the Korean Confucian background when we aren’t even taught about Confucianism in School. It’s just a corruption problem in Korea that’s been a constant challenge and quite difficult to change with the conservatives controlling the education board. And it’s same for all government jobs. Not to mention that it’s literally impossible to get fired from a government position in Korea, unless one burns down his boss’s home or something. Then again I’m just a student, what would I know… Juss tellin’ u my opinion DOC

At 4:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for the comment.

While I agree that the problem is one of corruption, the reason cannot be only due to 'conservatives' on the education board, for Kim Byong-joon was what is called 'progressive' here in Korea.

But perhaps I've misunderstood your use of the word "conservative."

As for the role of Confucianism, I maintain that it's playing a role here. Whether it's taught in the schools or not, Confucianism is still strong as a Korean social ethic, and it reinforces a hierarchy that encourages deference to authority and discourages questioning those in authority.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wrote an article about this problem in the ESL industry, which was published in the paper in May 2011. It outlined the causes of this problem in the ESL industry, but a lot of it also applies to other specialties. The article is viewable here:

The cause of the lack of quality teachers is simply government interference in the marketplace, and specifically the preposterous restrictions, and poisonous regulations discouraging native English speakers from coming to Korea to teach, produce, and profit.

At 4:33 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Mr. Moore, let's make that link easier to access: "Sub-par English education in Korea: Root of the problem."

Thanks for visiting and the comment.

Jeffery Hodges

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