Ewha broke records in early September when four of its research centers were selected as part of the Institute Programs in Humanities & Social Sciences run by the Ministry of Education and National Research Foundation of Korea. With 20 centers selected in total, it marked the highest number of research centers that had ever been chosen to participate in the program in Korea.
The research projects tackled modern day problems such as the governmental role of dealing with novel viruses, how to adapt to an aging society, and how to improve education for the future. Ewha Voice interviewed the selected centers to further understand how they were tackling these issues.
Professor Chung Hye-jung, director of the Ewha Institute of Historical Studies, stated that her research entitled “Disease and Nation” had much to do with the novel coronavirus. She aims to compare and contrast how different nations and medical institutions have historically responded to various diseases.
“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have realized that the response to the pandemic is no longer the problem of individual nations,” Chung said. “Moreover, diseases are not a onetime happening but rather deeply interlinked into the overall aspect of society, such as the change in living conditions, and political and economic situations.”
Referring to her research, she applauded London’s effective response to the Great Plague in 1665. Authorities strictly managed infected homes and banned public events such as plays and festivals. They also issued orders related to sanitation and hygiene. She added that since King Gojong’s regime, Joseon, and later Korea, have also made significant progress in conducting research on national infectious diseases.
Chung added that we should be aware of the relationship between diseases and climate change.
“Jeremy Rifkin, a world-renowned economist, is searching for the cause of COVID-19 in climate change. Also, due to globalization and commercialization, there are concerns that worldwide pandemics will occur more frequently. Therefore, understanding the environment as a society, a nation, and also as individuals is paramount.”
Professor Chung Soon-dool, director of the Institute for Social Welfare Research and the Age Integration Research Institute, introduced another problem deeply rooted in Korea. She explained that her research aims to overcome problems from today’s low birth rates and aging society. Her project, ‘Towards intergeneration solidarity: Beyond age inter-generation and building new ways of life to a sustainable society,’ attempts to help different generations understand each other and co-exist.
For over 10 years, she has been researching ways to create an integrated society without age restrictions. This especially applies to job seekers.
Ewha research teams tackle demographic issues
“The younger generation’s main concern is that the older generation is taking away their jobs,” Chung started. “However, the elderly has difficulty learning new technology, and physical limitations prevent them from working full time. The fields of work the two generations can undertake differ immensely, but both generations must work to sustain today’s society. This way we can fully utilize our labor and help elderly people make a living on their own instead of relying solely on pension.”
Chung underlined the importance for society to change. Committees determining policies such as political parties should consist of a mix of generations. Furthermore, the role of media is also paramount in changing societal perceptions toward age-integration. She said that positive changes are already occurring, for example corporations such as LG and LOTTE require their boards of directors to listen to the younger generation and implement their opinions.
Professor Chung Jae-young, director of the Center for Future Education Research, is focusing on another problem deeply related to demographics. His research, entitled “A study on the future education policy based on Big Data,” aims to improve higher education and lifelong education.
Korea’s low birth rates and aging society will directly affect the population attending schools and bring changes in the overall education system. This includes the increase of small schools, and systems of education specifically tailored for lifelong learners.
The Center for Future Education research intends to contribute to the establishment of a lifelong education ecosystem. For example, the center will provide high quality K-MOOC innovation plans that anyone can take free of charge, expand opportunities for adult learners to enter universities, and more.
“Current schools are a product of an industrialized society,” Chung said. “They operate under a rigid system which distinguishes schools by name value and grades. It prevents autonomous operation and integrated academic systems according to students’ levels and goals. Therefore, effort is needed to set the direction of future education for innovative teaching.”
Chung stated that a decreasing school population leads to a decrease in school funds. This will greatly affect local universities and community colleges, regardless of the quality of education. Chung hopes to create a more flexible education system to preemptively overcome this problem.
Another professor endeavoring to overcome education related problems is Professor Jo Il-hyun, director of EduTech Covergence Lab. He aims to incorporate problem-based learning (PBL) by creating different education modules that can apply to individual students. His research “EduTech-based Modular K-PBL Learning Model Development” is due to be introduced at Ewha in three years.
Jo stated that his years working at Ewha Career Development Center made him realize that students majoring humanities were unable to utilize their major when in search of jobs. This inspired him to create teaching-learning models and apply it to humanities courses.
“As PBL focuses on student-centered interaction, it is difficult to apply PBL to a class over 10 students,” Jo said. “Our team will therefore create three models based on knowledge, skills, and problems by analyzing classes and individual students’ needs, to create a generalizable package that can be handed over to the instructor of the class. This way, instructors can understand individual needs and students can focus on self-directed learning.”
Jo hopes humanities students will proactively engage in class, encounter problems directly related to their future careers, and be able to fully utilize their major in the future.