The philosophy underlying the Korean education movement of the 19th century was a belief that a strong country was rooted in a well-educated populace. This system included foreign language training. Language schools for teaching Japanese, English, and French were opened in 1895; for Russian in 1896; and for Chinese and German in 1900.
In the early 1910s schools also developed new curricula for scientific and technical studies. Around the same time, many schools started to teach nationalistic concepts. For many the concept of “Koreanness” and the concept of a modern nation-state were new ideas that were just beginning to be discussed and explored. The school system was key to this development.
Education took on a new role under the Japanese. With the Western missionary-sponsored innovations begun in 1884, the educational system had started to open to a nonelite public, a popular reform. Although some of the recently founded missionary schools survived the Japanese era, many were shut down, some as early as 1908, others in 1914, and still others in the 1930s.
In 1908 Resident-General Ito Hirobumi issued a decree that placed private schools under the same control as the public school system and closed some schools in the process. (This occurred during the protectorate when Japan allegedly controlled only Korea’s foreign relations.) For many Koreans, the Japanese changes continued to improve the educational system. Most important, the Japanese continued to offer greater opportunity for more people. The improvements were relative, however. The Japanese had developed a parallel system, with one set of schools for the Japanese and another for the Koreans.
The system provided schooling for more Koreans than had ever been educated before, which engendered some popular support, but nevertheless only a small percentage of Koreans were educated, whereas education for the Japanese in Korea was nearly universal. The government allowed the brightest of Korean students to study in the Japanese schools, creating allies among Koreans at an elitist level. A small percentage who performed very well or were especially well connected were even admitted to colleges in Japan. By 1912 there were 3,171 Korean students in Japan.
This particular strategy, however, could have backfired on the Japanese. Many of the Koreans who studied in Japan became leftists and nationalists. “Living together and studying subversive political lit-erature available in Japan, Korean students became increasingly radical-ized,” notes Michael Robinson. “In addition, the bonds between Korean and other foreign students were intensified by the first-hand experience of ethnic discrimination in Japanese society. They also forged ties with leftist Japanese students who were alienated by the politics of the older generation” (Eckert 1990, 275).