'Seoul Learn' is a project that provides equal educational opportunities to the vulnerable population that has difficulties in accessing educational resources due to socioeconomic reasons. Educational inequality in Korea has been identified as the main culprit behind generational poverty. The project offers various educational services via public platforms to prevent education from causing inequalities.
As the Covid-19 pandemic widened the educational gap, educational inequalities emerged as a serious social issue. At the same time, educational inequality has been identified as the main culprit behind generational poverty. Such disparity in education arises from unequal access to education and highly differs according to parents’ economic status. There is a deepening educational gap due to socioeconomic background, degree of private education outside of school, and support and educational resources provided by parents. Families earning 8 million won or more every month spend 5.1 times more on monthly private education per person (593,000 won) than those earning less than 2 million won (116,000 won) (Statistics Korea, 2021). Children of parents with fewer assets and education tend to underachieve (OECD’s PISA, 2018). '
Seoul Learn' is a welfare policy that provides various complimentary educational services to the vulnerable class through public platforms to prevent education from causing inequalities.The Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) is pursuing three goals and following basic plans that were set while establishing 'Seoul Learn' policies:
- Creating “a fair city of education” by focusing on supporting low-income families and tackling educational disparities induced by income levels
- Creating “a sustainable city of education” by offering educational content customized for each life cycle
- Creating “an innovative city of education” by building innovative educational platforms that combine different educational technologies
Prior to the project, the SMG evaluated the pre-existing online learning environment for teenagers from low-income families to achieve a practical outcome. It verified that underprivileged students had received learning devices, such as tablet PCs and Internet services from the city government and the office of education. The SMG and the office of education cooperated in providing the necessary support to those students to have seamless remote education amid the pandemic. When students needed additional support, Seoul introduced them to the “PC of Love” distribution project and ensured that they had immediate help.
After confirming that the physical environment was ready, Seoul prepared an administrative foundation by revamping related city ordinances. Then, it gathered together with the like-minded office of education and businesses to launch the website of Seoul Learn on August 27, 2021 and started to provide educational services.
Teenage Seoul citizens belonging to a vulnerable group (children of low-income groups, school dropouts, children of multicultural families, and others) can take an online qualification test and join Seoul Learn. Member students can choose up to three educational content providers (1 regular school subject, 1 language and certificate, and 1 reading) and enjoy all of their content without any limits. In addition, members can apply for 1:1 online and offline mentoring services affiliated with prestigious universities in Korea. Mentors from each college are helping teenage students with their learning plans, emotional stability, and career design. Private companies are also joining the project by providing learning materials, such as textbooks, as part of their corporate social responsibility activities.
Seoul aims to develop the website of Seoul Learn into an educational platform combining educational technologies by July 2023. This will allow the SMG to manage learning history, make it into data sets, and provide tailored education. The city government also plans to prepare interactive, hands-on remote educational programs.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
'Seoul Learn' is an innovation in educational policy for the following reasons:
- By leveraging private educational content, Seoul Learn overcomes the traditional approach that tries to tackle the educational gap only through public education. The use of private content dramatically increases the vulnerable class’ access to education.
- By providing private educational content on a public platform free of charge, Seoul Learn alleviates the burden of private education fees for the underprivileged class and prevents education from causing further inequalities.
- By using a new educational platform applying innovative technologies, such as AI and big data, members of Seoul Learn will be able to take advantage of individually customized educational services regardless of time and place.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Currently, 'Seoul Learn' is in the implementation stage. Since 2021, students from low-income families have been provided with educational content, 1:1 mentoring, and books through Seoul Learn. Also, 'Seoul Learn' is upgrading its service to provide more to its members.
- First, it will expand the scope of eligible beneficiaries so that more adolescents can use Seoul Learn. To do so, the SMG is revising related ordinances.
- More content will be available, including courses about certificates, new languages, and reading skills. Additionally, college admissions consulting provided by teachers and admission experts will be available.
- As for mentoring, it will cover more areas, including art and sport, other than traditional major subjects.
- More books will be provided free of charge to relieve the economic burden of learning.
- Seoul has embarked on creating its platform. Once completed, it will offer customized education and interactive, hands-on online education.
Collaborations & Partnerships
In 2021, the SMG and the office of education provided 60,000 smart devices to low-income students. Now, they are providing financial support for the Internet. Fourteen educational content providers participating in Seoul Learn are supplying their products at 60% cheaper than the market price. Some businesses are donating books. This enables Seoul to provide services to vulnerable students without any cost. And many universities select the best mentors from their excellent talent pool.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Members can take free courses previously unavailable due to their high costs. They can also solicit advice from mentors. This implies an improvement in their access to education. For college mentors, it is an opportunity to enjoy more off-campus activities that have long disappeared. In addition, mentors can pursue career development while getting financial support by joining the project. Businesses can expect positive marketing effects through socially responsible activities.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Since its launch, more than 16,000 people have joined Seoul Learn within a year. However, to evaluate the outcome more objectively, the SMG asked Hankook Research for more detailed surveys. After three rounds of assessment from September to December 2021, Seoul Learn turned out to have gained positive feedback from the public, scoring 85 in overall satisfaction and 88 in willingness to continue using the service.
Although there is not enough objective data as Seoul Learn is at its early stage, enough cases proved that it helped students with college admissions, career decisions, and academic achievements. Notably, some previous members of Seoul Learn are now contributing to the project as mentors, showing the virtuous cycle of this program. Seoul believes that educational content provided on public platforms can help tackle unequal access to education and contribute to social integration by creating a fair society where anyone can succeed.
Challenges and Failures
One of the challenges we faced while planning and executing the Seoul Learn project was voices that we should not leverage the private education market to enhance the quality of public education. We agreed to this idea and were fully aware that that was the ideal goal.
Nevertheless, rich parents hire more qualified private tutors for their children and lay in educational opportunities to inherit their wealth. We convinced opponents that vulnerable teenagers should never be left behind against this backdrop. We stressed that these students could not learn as much as they wanted simply due to socioeconomic issues they face in real life. Consequently, Seoul Learn was recognized as an educational welfare policy, and we were able to run the project stably.
Conditions for Success
To successfully run Seoul Learn, we must secure the basic physical condition for remote learning, such as computers and the Internet. This to prevent learning disruption caused by economic status and guarantee stable remote learning amid the pandemic, the city government, district offices, and the office of education shared resources. As a result, 59,899 laptops and tablet PCs for underprivileged students were sent to 1,168 schools between April 2020 and February 2021. Additionally, the SMG is paying for one Internet account for each low-income household to share their burden.
Another project Seoul is running is “PC of Love.” It is a program that collects and upgrades old computers to send free computers to low-income families or related agencies. This project will allow Seoul to meet additional computer demand with enough flexibility.
'Seoul Learn' is gaining attention from other local governments. Fourteen municipal governments have already called or inquired to schedule a visit to the SMG. However, Seoul hopes these governments do not spend extra money to build a similar learning page. Instead, the SMG will embed a feature in the newly-developed platform, so interested governments can use Seoul’s infrastructure. Educational inequity triggered by parents’ economic status is not limited to Korean society. Most member countries of the OECD are facing the same issue. If any country needs our help, Seoul is always ready to share the know-how.
Education has two different powers. One is the power to make an ordinary person highly successful, but the other is the power to solidify the pre-existing social structure. Thus, it is imperative to guarantee equal opportunities to prevent education from becoming a tool to aggravate the inequality issue.
Seoul’s ultimate goal is to reduce unequal educational opportunities by offering different learning content to adolescents with limited access to learning resources due to socioeconomic reasons. The SMG is determined to ensure that these students do not have limited opportunities despite their passion and determination. A fair society where there is no educational inequity and where anyone can be successful is the society Seoul will create in the future. And this is the value to learn through Seoul Learn.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
24 November 2023