Walking the tightrope of epistemicide: Competency discourse in South Korean curriculum reform

Year: 2019

Author: Kim, Ji-Hye

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper explores the phenomenon of 'curriculum epistemicide'(Paraskeva, 2016) focusing on OECD's competency discourse by analysing South Korea's 2015 curriculum reform and its competency framework. From 1999, OECD started its international projects on identifying key competencies for successful future life and how those competencies enable people to well-function in modern societies. By discovering the competencies as a global standard to transform curricular knowledge, OECD used examining tools such as PISA and TIMSS to compare how participating countries are close or far from the global standard. As the global discourse of core-competency travels, each nation-state's curricular knowledge and education policies experience epistemic territorialisation and re-/de-territorialisation (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987).In the case of South Korea, the Ministry of Education reformed 2015 national curriculum based on the core-competency discourse as a main framework.

Based on the discourse analysis of the new Korean curriculum documents, policy reports, and media sources, this paper reveals the multiple layers of the reform, which cannot be simplified as 'policy transferring', or 'policy borrowing and lending'(Steinner-Khamsi, 2004). Rather, this paper argues that the reform on curricular knowledge is a process of epistemic war among Western-Eurocentric idea of modernity and progress, traditional education philosophy, and newly devised idea of an ideal citizen. In this process, the territory of the Korean education can be described as the 'walking the tightrope of epistemicide'; the process is filled with continual process of confrontation with neo-colonial power of epistemic territorialisation and oppositional efforts to de-territorialize the curricular knowledge by reinforcing history, traditional values, and the idea of Koreanness.

In order to analyse the discourse of curriculum reform, this paper draws upon the Foucault's idea of eventalization as its method (Foucault, 1991). Thus, the curriculum reform is not considered as a single event; the statements in the document are also analysed as events, and the documents are conceived as systems of the dispersion of statements. In examining the discourse of South Korea's curriculum reform, this study reveals the epistemic power struggles of curricular knowledge which is materialized in the form of national curriculum. Through the case of South Korea, the OECD-centered global education reform movement will be re-examined beyond the dichotomized understanding of the epistemic struggle between the global and local.