Korea: English education under Japanese rule

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Nov 13 16:09:04 UTC 2008

     *English Education under Japanese Rule*

Japan's desperate measures, which drove Korean young adults into battle
lines and labor mobilization, left few educational opportunities for
students in higher education, and the field of English language education
suffered along with higher education in general.
*This is the 17th in a series of articles about history of English education
in Korea ― ED.*

By Kim Eun-gyong
Contributing Writer

In May 1938, the Japanese governor-general ``…flatly reject[ed] corrupt
customs that are based on the abstract, individual European and American
thoughts, which have nothing to do with our history and national body.''
Accordingly, the government banned the importation of Western books, which
it viewed unfit for its national policies and ideologies and the climate of
Japanese imperialism; it also restricted the use of American and British
authors' works as textbooks. It banned the display of English language signs
on school facilities and prohibited study in or travel to the United States
and Europe.

In 1939, the government initiated a drastic reduction of the instructional
hours of English in middle school and removed the subject from the
higher-education entrance exams, a decision that had an especially negative
impact on mission schools, which had concentrated on English language
education. The government declared English as an enemy language and fired
all Britons and Americans from official positions. Missionaries were removed
from schools and forced to leave the country.

As Japan's entanglement in the war deepened, foreign language instruction,
as with the school curricula in general, underwent substantial changes. The
ordinance for middle schools in January 1943 reduced the middle-school years
to four and the years for girls' high school to two, thus curtailing the
general amount of foreign language instruction that secondary-school
students received. In the revised curriculum of middle school, foreign
language was reduced to an optional subject in the third and higher grades.
The proportion of the weekly instructional hours of foreign language
decreased from the previous 15 percent to 10.7 or 5.3 percent. In the
curriculum of girls' high school, foreign language was offered as an
elective in all grades. Malay or another foreign language was added as a new

The curriculum of normal schools consisted of a five-year regular course and
two-year practice course for men while women were offered a one-year
practice course in addition to the regular course. Foreign language was a
required subject in the regular course for males but offered as an elective
for female students, a consistent practice continued from the previous
curricula. Previously, in the 1922 curriculum, English had been offered as
the only choice of foreign language, but the new curriculum included
Chinese, German and French as well. English language instruction had been
offered four to six hours per week for men, that is, 14.9 percent of the
overall instructional hours, but with the elimination of English as the only
required subject of foreign language, the instructional hours of foreign
language were reduced by less than half, at 7.1 percent.

As Japan geared the colony to the needs of war against the English-speaking
United States and especially Britain, English language education in
higher-education institutions, most of which were run by American
missionaries, endured a serious setback. Mission schools became a target of
the government's harsh suppression and experienced a significant decline
reducing the quality of English language education that these schools

Furthermore, the government banned all student and research activities,
including English-language activities such as English speech contests and
the publication of English language works. The subject of English was
removed from entrance exams, a blow to the missionary-run professional
schools such as Yeonhi and Ewha that had emphasized English language
education. With the removal of English from the exams came a decrease in
schools' and students' interest in English language education.

More significantly, Japan's desperate measures, which drove Korean young
adults into battle lines and labor mobilization, left few educational
opportunities for students in higher education, and the field of English
language education suffered along with higher education in general.

Here is a case of a professional school that had made significant
contribution to the development of English-language education in Korea. At
Ewha, the government-general gradually forced itself into the school's
management and academic affairs, resulting in the removal of a number of
teachers whose educational background included studies in the United States
or Europe and those who did not have Japanese language ability. English
language activities, such as English-short story contests and the
publication of English newspapers, were discontinued in 1938 and in 1940,
respectively. Regarded as an enemy language, English was banned in school,
and all English language textbooks were burned. In 1943 by the government's
coercion, the department of liberal arts, which had been considered as an
English department, became the department of national (i.e., Japanese)
literature. In December of the same year, the government renamed the school,
``Leadership Training Institute, Female Youth Development Institute,
Gyeongseong Women's Professional School.'' The existing four departments
were integrated into one, and without the distinction of school years,
students were organized into groups and received three-month training before
being assigned to ``female youth development institutes,'' instituted by the
government nationwide, and used as a vehicle to convert women in rural areas
to part of the labor force. Ewha Professional School had been one of the
major engines leading the development of English language education in
Korea, but the school was forced to desert the role until Korea's liberation
in 1945.

In sum, during the period between 1938 and 1945, Japan attempted to
assimilate Koreans and convert the entire colony into a war supply base,
hauling Korean youth for labor mobilization and battle lines. The colonial
government strictly enforced a Japanese monolingual policy, compelling
Koreans to use Japanese in daily activities outside school and in class.
Moreover, as Japan engaged in a war against the United States and the
Allies, the colonial government declared English as the language of the
enemy and created an environment that suppressed the use and learning of
English. The Japanese government's strict monolingual policy, exploitation
of students for the purpose of war, and suppression of English use resulted
in a serious decline in English language education in Korea. English
instructional hours and school years were cut short. In higher education,
liberal arts were discouraged while the government expanded science and
engineering programs. Study in English-speaking countries and the use of
American and British authors' works were banned or restricted. Mission
schools, which had served as the main source for quality English language
education in Korea, withered under the anti-US government. Missionaries were
removed from the schools and eventually forced to leave the country.
Moreover, Japan's desperate measures that drove Korean students into battle
lines and labor mobilization robbed them of educational opportunities. This
was a truly adverse period for the field of English language education in
Korea: English language education underwent the most profound decline since
the Japanese annexation of Korea.

*Kim Eun-gyong is an associate professor of applied linguistics and
Associate Dean of the Center for International Affairs, Information and
Communications University (ICU) in Daejeon. She can be reached at
egkimrivera at icu.ac.kr.*

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