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ISSN : 2092-674X (Print)
ISSN : 2092-6758 (Online)
Asia-Pacific Collaborative education Journal Vol.8 No.1 pp.71-78

Reflection on Multicultural Education and Multicultural Policy in Korea

Jinyeong HEO
Jinyeong HEO is received his Ph.D in education of language and culture from University of Paris 3(Sorbonne Nouvelle). He is a research professor of BK(Brain Korea)21 Agency at Pusan National University in Korea. He teaches a liberal arts in the area of education of language and culture.
Received Date: May. 30, 2012 Revision received Date: June. 15, 2012 Accepted Date: June. 20, 2012


Under the influence of globalization, countries that should seriously consider the complicated social integration of foreign immigrants and national residents are increasing more and more. In addition, radical and religious disputes and cultural conflicts within countries are very serious problems.The purpose of this paper is to consider multicultural education and policy in Korean society toward the aim of envisioning a multiculturalism that is more inclusive and cognizant of the needs of Korea’s new cultural diversity. As the number of immigrants increases, the needs for a multicultural policy has also expanded in Korea in recent times. But this'multicultural situation' is very new to Korea. By examining the social and multicultural policies in Korea, we can identify some essential points. The balance between 'unification' and 'differentiation' is the main dilemma for multicultural policy. Therefore, establishing a solid agreement with the Korean people for a multicultural society is important.Multicultural education in Korea has recently become an important social and educational issue, reflecting recent changes in Korea's position in the national and global context. Multicultural education is not about paternalistic sympathy for minorities or simply learning about other cultures. It is an educational approach based on the principle of mutual equality.This paper first examines the background of multicultural education in Korean society. Secondly, we offer new goals for multicultural education. Finally, we study some problems with and the current status of multicultural policy in Korea.This study examines the current condition of multicultural education in Korea, and the social background of Korea’s multicultural society and its affects on multicultural education in Korea. From this information, we identify the processes and problems involved in the formation of a multicultural society in Korea. Through this, we look at the implications of multicultural education in Korea.



 Korea has rapidly become a multicultural society since hosting the 1988 Olympics. Since that time, Korea has witnessed an increase in international marriages and an influx of immigrant workers. However, even though there has been a rapid growth of up to 1.1 million people from differing ethic groups within Korea, because of the adamant single-race state concept and the absence of public experience in immigration Korea is facing difficulties becoming a multicultural society. Korea is no longer a single-race nation, but is rather rapidly becoming a multicultural society. Especially, since the 1990s, international marriages and workers have increased rapidly and foreign students as well as foreigner residents have been increasing gradually.

 By May 2012, according to statistics from the Korean Immigration Bureau, the proportion of foreigners in South Korea had passed 2.6% (1.1 million people) of the total population. It consists of married immigrants, ethnic Koreans coming to Korea from elsewhere, foreign workers. The nationalities and occupations of resident foreigners is going to diversify. As a result, Korean people need to improve their acceptance of a multicultural society.

 By 2030, migrant workers are expected to exceed five million people in our society. Multicultural families have been rapidly expanding in importance and occupying their role in our society due to the low fertility rate and an aging domestic population. In addition, an active and open immigration policy is needed due to the weakening national growth rate, a projected declining population by 2016, and a rapidly aging society by 2018. As a result, by 2019 the economically active population will reduce. Therefore, economic migration will have to increase. These facts are all related to the processes of globalization and the universalization of human rights. But this phenomenon has caused a weakening of the concept of the traditional sovereign nation-state, ethnically homogeneous people, and national borders. Increased international migration, has led to major policy challenges for individual countries. In the Korean context this has, resulted in social problems for foreigners and human rights protections for immigrants, and the necessity of integrating them into Korean society (Park, Sung Hyouk, Gwak, hanyoung, 2009). The phenomenon of globalization and the universalization of human rights due to the increase of international migration is leading to the creation of multicultural societies across the globe. The effects of these global trends on Korean society is no exception.

Background and discussion - Multicultural education in Korean society

 The term 'multicultural' has been widely used in our society since 2005, when the treatment of immigrant women became a major cultural and social issue. Further, theoretical discussion regarding immigrants as well as practical supports for their care and wellbeing have become more prominent in Korean society. This has been particularly so following the greater influx of North Korean defectors and migrant workers that has occurred since 2007(Lee, M.K. 2008). Children who are the offspring of international marriages are experiencing educational problems (Oh S.B. 2005). As well, North Korean immigrants are experiencing school adjustment problems. In addition, exclusion and linguistic isolation at school because of the language barriers, and school adjustment problems due to cultural differences. All of these cases serve to highlight multicultural issues in education. As a result, human rights and social welfare research (Seol, donghun 2003), has become a major axis of multicultural education and research.

 An overview of the discussion surrounding the problem of Korea's multicultural society and multicultural education is as follows. First, the greatest feature of discussion regarding Korea's multicultural society is the bias of the subject from the Korean national point of view. Korea's multiculturalism has been working from a nationalist way of thinking. The debate on the 'multiculturalization' of Korean society and the relevant policies focus on North Korean defectors or female immigrants who have married Korean men, and their children's education. The discussion and interest of migrant workers and their children's education problem is relatively poor. There are hence limitations of social tolerance and general awareness for the implementation of a multicultural society. Second, there is a problem of content composition and directivity of multicultural education in the classroom. The various multicultural education programs are biased toward married immigrants and their children and language education, and focus mainly on educational and cultural experiences.

 Finally, multicultural education in Korean society focuses on educational support for multicultural migrants. A multicultural education of target immigrants or minorities is the center of educational support and care for school and social adaptation. Educational contents includes a bilingual education and identity education.

Creating new educational goals for multicultural education

 The first target of multicultural education is multicultural families: students and their parents. This is called immigrants education. The second target of multicultural education is general students, teachers, civil servants, and the general public. This is called the development of multicultural education skills. This paper argues that multicultural education should be a primary goal for successful social adaptation and should aim to provide opportunities for quality education for multicutural family students and parents. Multicultural education should also be a primary goal for Korean students, teachers, civil servants, and the general public, equipping them with multicultural values and behavior patterns.

[Table 1] Creating new educational goal of multicultural education(Cheon K.S, Jung K.S, Lee J.H, 2007)

 In particular, teachers, and civilservants, who are responsible for multicultural education and policy, must have multicultural understanding and multicultural sensitivity to provide educational and administrative services.

 The children of multicultural families can be subdivided into children of international marriages, migrant worker children and North Korean defector children. These three groups have common experiences and problems as immigrants but also there are also unique problems, due to the uniqueness of each group. Thus, after grasping the uniqueness and educational needs of each group, we need to practice customized education.

Problems and Current Status of multicultural policy in Korea

 Korean multicultural policy has a 'support policy at the federal level for constant immigrants and family' called a 'social integration policy'. Social integration policies try to help immigrants become more integrated members of our society. The Korean government needs to guarantee that foreign immigrants are not discriminated against unjustly, and ensure that policy measures for dealing with social maladjustment minimize social conflict. In addition, in the process of social integration western immigrants, 'multiculturalism' and 'assimilation', the state should take care of multicultural issues, such as the policy to integrate immigrants and the acceptance of Korea as a multicultural society(Department of Justice, 2008). Federal multicultural policy in Korea started in the 1990s after the immigration of casual workers began.

 The major policy categories were human resources, migrant workers, ethnic Koreans coming to Korea from elsewhere, and married immigrants. The South Korean government and society have engaged in, various support measures for immigrant women. The Korean model is based on the 'assimilation' of 'immigrant women' who are foreign brides. Because of the massive surge of these immigrant women and the development of a multicultural population, multiculturalism and cultural diversity have become buzzwords in Korean society. Immigrant women have in particular experienced difficulties in adapting to Korean society due to dual cultural differences. Because of the cultural differences between immigrant workers and the host country, conflicts can occur. For example, the Korean government want migrants to assimilate into Korea culture, but some migrants from poorer countries have resisted this. After all, the cultural differences are not a result of fear of foreign culture or xenophobia. Racism and caste discrimination is a problem. Korea's patriarchal values add up to immigrant women's human rights violations. There is further a blind spot in Korean multicultural policy if Korean women marry foreign men or work in Korea among foreign workers and get married and give birth to children, as most foreign support policy or social interests are geared to immigrant women. In the future, the extent of coverage of multicultural families should be expanded and diversified.

 The multicultural history of Korea is short, and the absence of a multicultural philosophy and administrative support between central and local government is apparent due to the duplication of policy and the lack of a fixed multicultural education program. The Korean policy of multiculturalism still has many problems. Table 2 below provides a comparison of current multicultural policies by the government and the multicultural activities of some NGOs.

[Table 2] The Government's Multicultural Policies and some NGOs Multicultural Activities (Yoon, I.J. 2011)

 An overview of the government's multicultural policies and cultural activities of civil society finds that the aims of the Korean government's multicultural policies were to provide for a successful adjustment and social integration of legal foreign nationals. However, NGOs aimed for a peaceful coexistence of South Korean nationals and migrants, regardless of their legality. They also wanted to protect migrants' rights to live and assert their human rights. The main state multicultural programs were Korean language education and culture programs, and raising public awareness. NGOs also provided Korean language education, and culture education, multicultural festivals, and programs that improved the skills of foreign workers and married migrant women. They also supported policy reformations to improve migrant workers' human rights.


 The discussion and interest surrounding 'multiculturalism' in Korea has increased sharply in recent years as it has become a buzzword at the center of social and educational issues. This is due to the increase of international marriages, foreign workers, foreign students, changes in Korea's population and social change, the historic nature of globalization, and internationalization. The concern of multicultural education is closely related to the changing times.

 Korean society has shown increasing interest in multiculturalism and has moved toward becoming a multicultural society since the year 2000. Following the increase in foreign immigrant labor, marriage migrants, multicultural family children, the influx of overseas Koreans and former North Korean residents, and the phenomenon of ethnic and cultural diversity, multiculturalism has increased in Korean society. However, the problems of human rights violations, difficulties experienced by immigrant women and foreign workers in Korean society, and cultural adaptation (for instance, communication problems, family relationship problems, economic problems, and culture shock) are not easily solved. Therefore, as foreign protection and social integration increase gradually, the interest in multiculturalism has increased. However, at the political level, to realize the value of multiculturalism, Korea still maintains a policy of coercion concerning illegal aliens, immigrant women, known as 'Kosian,' and multicultural families. Multiculturalism still has a very low interest and understanding in Korean society. Multicultural policy is based on diversity and inclusion. It is possible to achieve strong international competitiveness, too. But with poor domestic equity issues, financial and social burdens may cause increased difficulties. Above all, it is necessary to have a better understanding of our multicultural society and immigration patterns, and develop a better social consensus on the need to establish a long-term vision.


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