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Competency-based curriculum and curriculum autonomy in the Republic of Korea (IBE Working Papers on Curriculum Issues N° 12)

This paper provides insights into issues related to the implementation of a competency-based approach and curriculum autonomy policies in the Republic of Korea. One of the main conclusions is that the development of key competencies requires innovative modifications to teaching, learning, and assessment practices in alignment with the changes introduced in curriculum documents.


Changes in today’s modern society are both rapid and intricate, bringing both significant challenges and new responsibilities to the field of education. Whereas in the past people strived to acquire as much knowledge as possible, the new task of modern society, exposed to an exponential amount of knowledge and information, is to select the highest quality information and make effective use of it. Such changes, stemming from this transformation into a knowledge-based society, require reshaping the past school-based system and ensuring coherent efforts that actively correspond to the accelerating social developments.


One particular response to the demand for such a change is the recent emphasis on key competencies. Rather than a simple accumulation of knowledge, developments regarding future school education environments are stressing the importance of the utilization of knowledge. Accordingly, the focal point of a curriculum must seek to overcome the narrow-minded past of traditional syllabi or written study plans and to focus on providing learners with the ability to develop knowledge selection and utilization skills. In this context, key competencies are becoming of profound interest both domestically and internationally as a critical aspect of education reform and curriculum innovation.


In order to meet these concerns, the Republic of Korea has begun to consider the possibilities of a competency-based curriculum and has made various efforts in this direction. However, the majority of ideas and arguments regarding a competency-based curriculum still remain as a mere discourse and have yet to demonstrate how key competencies can be developed by learners through a school curriculum. Research conducted in Korea on competency-based curriculum mainly covers its theoretical aspects, governmental measures aimed at integrating key competencies in national curriculum documents, and analyses of experiences in other countries. Although these studies may help in highlighting the new role of a school curriculum, they also have significant limitations as it is still difficult to demonstrate
(i) how a competency-based curriculum can be successfully and effectively implemented in schools beyond proclamations and rhetorical discourses,
(ii) what a competency-based curriculum is or looks like, and
(iii) how it differs from the traditional curriculum and classroom teaching.