CAPK Contribution 2021-12-20
*Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed in this article are solely the authors’ own and do not reflect the opinions or views of the ASEAN-Korea Centre or Council of ASEAN Professors in Korea.
*이 글에 표현된 의견 및 견해는 전적으로 저자 개인의 의견으로 한-아세안센터 또는 주한 아세안 교수협의회의 공식의견과 무관함을 밝힙니다.
EXAMINING NATIONAL CHARACTER AND DEVELOPMENT IN SELECTED
SOUTHEAST ASIAN COUNTRIES AND SOUTH KOREA
Massuline Antonio D. Ligaya, LPT, PhD
This essay investigated the relationship between the development of a nation and the characteristics of its people. In this investigation, the construct used to embody the characteristics of the people living in a particular country is national character and the development of a nation is viewed here using the socio-economic and political lenses. The countries chosen upon which this investigation was anchored were South Korea and three Southeast Asian (SEA) nations, namely, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
In examining the national character of the aforementioned countries, Hofstede’s measures of cultural values (Hofstede’s 6-D model) were used. In measuring the development level these countries have reached, their scores and corresponding ranks in the Human Development Index (HDI) were compared. The descriptive-comparative structure was used in the discussion.
The investigation sought answers to the following questions: 1) How may the national character of the selected SEA countries and South Korea be described in terms of Hofstede’s measures of cultural values?; 2)What is the current status of development in these countries as indicated in their latest HDI rank?; 3) What inferences could be made as to how national development in these countries is associated with their national character as described using Hofstede’s measures of cultural values?; and 4) What can SEA countries learn from South Korean models in terms of national character and socio-economic and political development?
Hofstede’s 6-D model show that the South Koreans are the least hierarchical, most collectivist, the most feminine, the most uncomfortable with uncertainty, the most long-termed oriented, and the most restrained among the group of people whose national culture and human development were analyzed. The Malaysians are the most hierarchical and indulgent while the Filipinos are the most individualistic. Only the Philippines has a masculine society, and its citizens are the most short-term oriented. Of the three Southeast Asian nations, Vietnam is the most long-term oriented.
The cultural dimensions that are considered significantly correlated with wealth are power distance, individualism-collectivism, and long-term orientation. The less hierarchical, more collectivist, and more long-term oriented a country is, the wealthier and developed it could become. The South Koreans are the least hierarchical, the most collectivistic, and the most long-termed oriented. Of the four countries chosen for this analysis, South Korea is ranked the highest in the Human Development Index. Among the three Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia has the best score in the Human Development Index.
This investigation concluded that the development of a nation could be affected by the characteristics of its people. The South Koreans have certain characteristics, as shown in their scores in Hofstede’s 6-D model, that helped them consistently ranked high in the Human Development Index. People in Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian nations may perhaps consider embracing, not only the music, movies, TV dramas, food, and fashion of the South Koreans but also their cultural and behavioral orientations that are considered positive and applicable to them. In particular, the leaders of the said countries should consider looking at South Korean models when formulating their policies in the fields of education, research and development but at the same time also study how they could avoid the social problems besetting South Korea.
Keywords: National Character, National Development, Culture, Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension Theory, Human Development Index
There are different indicators and indices used in measuring the development in a country. Generally, they may be classified as economic, social, and political. Economic indicators tell how developed a country is and certain financial or fiscal measures including gross domestic product (GDP), gross national product (GNP), wealth distribution, and employment rate are used to determine it. Social indicators like health, education, and life expectancy measure the quality of life in a particular country. Political indicators, according to Harkness (2004), are measures of political participation, civil liberties, and human and labor rights.
Of the said indicators and indices used to determine the level of development in a country, the most significant are those that fall under the category “economic.” Economic indicators are always factored in determining how wealthy and developed a country is. It should be noted that when countries are performing well economically, their quality of life improves as well. The least important among the indicators are those that are classified as “political.” The observance or non-observance of political indicators are seemingly inconsequential in the attainment of development. There are very prosperous countries despite being ruled by authoritarian regimes. But it cannot be denied that political instability in some countries is hampering their socio-economic progress.
The socio-economic and political development of a country could be affected by certain factors. These factors may include but are not necessarily limited to geography, climate, political stability, natural resources, and human resources.
All of the aforementioned factors are important but if one of them were to be chosen as most vital in a country’s quest for overall development, it has to be human resources. No matter how rich a country is in terms of natural resources and even if its location and climate are both ideal, if its citizens are not willing or incapable to contribute to national development, socio-economic and political success will not be achieved. “The quality of human resources of a nation will determine their competitiveness in the twenty-first century. The well-equipped and skilled human resources will contribute to individual, organizational, and national development through improved performance (Osman-Gani & Tan, 1998, p. 417).”
The extent of development a country could reach depends on the quality of its human resources - its citizens. Where a country is economically, socially, and politically at this point in its history is a result of the kind of character its people developed through time.
This study intended to examine the connection between the development of a nation and the quality or nature of its people. The countries chosen upon which this investigation was anchored are the Republic of Korea (ROK), henceforth South Korea, and three Southeast Asian (SEA) countries namely, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam. The said Southeast Asian countries were chosen purposely based on the religious affiliations of the majority of their citizens.
There is an existing construct that could be used to embody the concept of quality or nature of the citizens of a country. It is called national character. This term, according to Inkeles (1997), refers to relatively enduring personality characteristics and patterns that are modal among the adult members of society. Realo and Allik (2020) pointed out that “nations and ethnic groups, just like individuals, are often perceived to have a distinct character which can be described by a set of specific personality traits. They refer to such shared beliefs of personality traits typical to people of a particular nation as national character.”
The definitions of national character presented by Kobierrzycki (2009) in an article indicated that the said construct is synonymous to the following: psychological traits that is characteristic for the people belonging to a nation that sets them apart from other nations; the most common type of behavior of the adult members of society; systems of conducts, values and convictions shared by the majority of a society; learned and inherited cultural behavior and systems of norms, values, and aims; and the mentality that is present (explicitly and implicitly) in literature, art and philosophy which functions as national “spirit.”
The ideas synonymous to national character in the definitions provided by Kobierzycki are obviously elements of the concept called culture. This implies that the analysis of the character of a group of people constitute an investigation of their culture. Thus, in examining the national character of the countries previously identified and in probing how it is affecting their development as nations, it was necessary to take into consideration their respective cultures.
In the evaluation of the national character of the said countries, Hofstede’s measures of cultural values were used and in measuring the extent of development that these countries have reached, the Human Development Index (HDI) was referred to. In the process, answers to the following questions were sought:
1. How may the national character of the selected SEA countries and South Korea be described in terms of Hofstede’s measures of cultural values?
2. What is the current status of development in these countries as indicated by their latest HDI rank?
3. What inferences could be made as to how national development in these countries is associated with their national character as described using Hofstede’s measures of cultural values?
4. What can SEA countries learn from South Korean models in terms of national character and socio-economic and political development?
B. National Character and Development in South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam
i. The Countries in Focus
As previously mentioned, the countries in focus for the analysis of the connection between national character and development are South Korea and three SEA countries namely, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam. These countries from the southeastern part of Asia are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with whom South Korea has strong relations. What started as a sectoral dialogue relation between the said organization of countries and South Korea in 1989 expanded and led to a strategic partnership aimed at promoting political security, economic, social, and cultural cooperation (ASEAN-Korea Relations, n.d.). Through the years, the relations between this group of Southeast Asian nations and South Korea have broadened and deepened.
The influence of South Korea on the countries aforementioned was forged not only by the ASEAN-ROK cooperation and the country’s individual diplomatic ties with each member country of this organization of Southeast Asian nations. It is no secret how popular South Korea’s cultural exports - music, movies, TV dramas, and the like - are. There is an ongoing and growing global craze for Korean culture. This cultural phenomenon is called Hallyu or “Korean Wave.” It successfully penetrated the consciousness of many people in the world including the citizens of the member states of ASEAN.
ASEAN has a total of 10 members but only 3 of them were chosen for this analysis. As previously mentioned, the choice of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam was based on the religious affiliations of the majority of their citizens. The said countries represent some of the major religions of the world. The Philippines is predominantly a Catholic nation and Malaysia, Islamic. Vietnam is neither of the two. Being a Communist country, Vietnam is technically atheist. Most Vietnamese, however, are not atheists but believe in a combination of three religions: Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism (Wendy, 2021). There are other countries in Southeast Asia who embrace the same religions but, in this analysis, only one country was chosen to represent them. The countries in focus were the ones purposely chosen.
Choosing religion as the basis for the selection of the said countries is predicated on the fact that if there is one aspect in the life of a group of people that could best capture their cultural identity, it is their religion. In addition, those different religions are presumed to have contributed to the differences of the characters of the people in the countries chosen for this analysis.
In the case of South Korea, KOREA.net cited a 2015 statistics report revealing that only 44% of South Koreans identified with a religion. The three biggest religions in the country are Protestantism, Buddhism, and Catholicism. These religions, together with Confucianism and Islam, reportedly, coexist with shamanism.
In terms of economic indices, of the countries chosen for the inquiry, South Korea is the wealthiest. It is ranked 10th in 2020 global GDP ranking. The Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam did not make it to the top 30. They were ranked 34th, 38th, 41st, respectively (Global PEO Services, n.d.).
Kramer (2021) explains that GDP is one of the most common indicators used to track the health of a nation’s economy. The calculation of a country’s GDP takes into consideration a number of different factors about the country’s economy, including its levels of consumption, government spending and investment.
Today, South Korea’s GDP is about US$2 trillion, and is one of the most developed and industrialized countries in the world. South Korea places great importance on education, innovation and investments in research and development. The country has a highly skilled workforce earning a high median household income (Global PEO Services, n.d.).
If quality of education were to be considered also in evaluating the performance of a country, then the gap between South Korea and the said southeast Asian countries is far and wide. South Korea has 2 universities in the top 50 of the QS World University 2020 Rankings which none of the other countries have. It is also producing 15-year-olds that consistently rank high in reading, math, and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
South Korea’s success begs the following questions: what has catapulted this nation to its current lofty position in the global community; and what enabled it to attain prosperity and stability?
In the race for development, why has South Korea vaulted ahead of Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam? Is the collective character of their citizens the factor that has brought prosperity and stability to South Korea and is it the one hampering the attainment of progress in the other countries aforementioned?
ii. Analyzing the National Character of the Countries in Focus
When Inkeles (1997) defined national character in his book, he explained that the meaning he formulated is purely a definitional statement and that it describes a hypothetical entity that may not exist. Khan and Rahman (2018) also argued that national character is both myth and reality, a fact and an ideal. The said views on national character are probably the reason why there are but a few empirical studies conducted to specifically measure it, and the results are even inconclusive.
But despite all of the aforementioned, an analysis of national character should not be based mainly on opinion. Thus, in this investigation of the national character of the countries in focus, the inferences created were grounded not only on anecdotal evidence but also on existing research-based data. This is the reason Professor Geert Hofstede’s measures of cultural values were chosen as the framework for the analysis. Hofstede’s theory describes the effects of a society’s culture on the values of its members and how these values relate to behavior. He developed his original model as a result of using factor analysis to examine the results of a worldwide survey of employee values by IBM between 1967 and 1973 (Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory, n.d.). Although the main purpose of Hofstede developing the theory was to understand the differences of cultures and how this applies to business, the theory has been applied in other fields as well.
Mead (1953), as cited by Inkeles (1997), explained that “the study of national culture should precede any analysis of national character.” This made Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory relevant to this analysis. It provided a definite conceptual model that was used to understand the distinctive collective character of the people living in Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and South Korea. Adeoye and Tomei (2014) observed that “this theory shows the effects of a society’s culture on the values of its members, and how these values relate to behavior, using a structure derived from factor analysis.”
Collectively, Hofstede’s six dimensions of national culture are known as Hofstede’s 6-D model. It was inspired by Hofstede’s belief that “culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category or people from another (Hofstede, 2011).” The model was based on extensive research done by himself with the help of Gert Jan Hofstede, Michael Minkov, and their research team.
There are 6 dimensions in Hofstede’s 6-D model, namely power distance index (PDI), individualism versus collectivism (IDV), masculinity versus femininity (MAS), uncertainty avoidance (UAI), long term orientation versus short term orientation (LTO), and indulgence versus restraint (IND). According to Hofstede (2011), these dimensions of culture are six basic issues that society needs to come to term with in order to organize itself.
Countries were scored on a scale of 0 to 100 for each dimension. There are 118 countries whose scores for the six dimensions of national culture are available at Hofstede’s website. The said website could generate from its database the score of a single country. It has also a comparative index where 4 countries (at the most) could be generated in a graph, like the one presented in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Hofstede’s model applied to Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, & South Korea
Figure 1 shows the scores of Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and South Korea in each of Hofstede’s dimension of national culture. The comparative analysis was done in each of the said dimensions.
The scores of the said countries were analyzed and compared and in the discussion of the similarities and differences, the descriptors under the labels low and high in Table 1 were used.
Table 1. Classifications in Hofstede’s’ Cultural Dimensions
|Egalitarian||Power distance||Embraces Hierarchy|
|Collectivist||Collectivism versus individualism||Individualist|
|Future Importance||Femininity versus Masculinity||Power Important|
|Comfortable with Uncertaint||Uncertainty Avoidance Index||Uncomfortable with Uncertainty|
|Traditional and Short-Term||Short-Term versus Long-Term Orientation||Futuristic and Long-Term|
|Normative Repression||Restraint versus Indulgence||Satisfaction is Good|
Power Distance Index (PDI)
According to Hofstede (2011), power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) within a country accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The lower the score, the more hierarchical is a society. The more hierarchical, the more that people accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification.
As can be gleaned from Figure 1, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam are highly hierarchical societies with scores of 100, 94, and 70 respectively. With an intermediate score of 60, South Korea is considered as a slightly hierarchical society.
Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV)
Hofstede (2011) explained that “individualism and collectivism is the aspect of the culture that deals with the degree of interdependence or independence a nation maintains among its people. It has to do with whether its people put themselves first above anyone else or whether the group is more important than the individual selves.”
In this cultural dimension, the lower the score the more collectivist is a society. The four countries under analysis are all collectivist societies. The Philippines has the highest score (32) while South Korea has the lowest (18). This means that South Korea is the most collectivistic among the four countries and the Philippines the least. Vietnam and Malaysia scored 26 and 20 respectively.
Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS)
Masculinity and femininity in this cultural dimension, as Hofstede (2011) explained, are considered as societal, and not as individual characteristics. He pointed out that a “masculine society is motivated by competition, success and achievement while a feminine society is perceived as having the dominant values of caring, nurturing and trying to create a healthy life balance.”
As provided in Hofstede’s 6-D Model, a high score in this dimension means that the country is masculine while a low score would mean that it is feminine. South Korea and Vietnam scored 39 and 40 respectively. They are classified as feminine societies. The Philippines, with a score of 64, is considered a masculine society while Malaysia, with an intermediate score of 50, the preference for this dimension cannot be determined.
Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI)
This cultural dimension, Hofstede (2011) asserts, “describes the extent to which people in society are not at ease with ambiguity and uncertainty. This is the degree to which people in society are willing to take risks or not. It measures how a society deals with the fact that it is impossible to determine what the future holds leading to the dilemma of whether people should try to control or just let it happen.”
In the uncertainty avoidance index, Vietnam scored 30, Malaysia 36 and the Philippines 44. These low scores indicate that these southeast Asian countries are comfortable with uncertainty. People in these societies use informality when interacting with others, are less orderly and keep fewer records, rely on informal norms for most matters, are less calculating when taking risks, and show only moderate resistance to change (Grove, 2005).
South Koreans are the exact opposite. In this dimension, they scored 85, which is among the highest in the world. Characteristics ascribed to people in this society include being always busy, hardworking, precise and punctual. But in addition, a high score in this dimension also means that people resist innovation.
Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Orientation (LTO)
This is the dimension in the 6-D Model that explains that “every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and the future. It determines if the members of society are influenced by their past or if their decisions are based on the anticipated consequences in the present and the future time (Hofstede, 2011).”
In this dimension, people are characterized by how they view their future and how they plan for it. When they plan for the future, will they consider deviating from their time-honored traditions and norms in favor of better ways of doing things? Those who score low in this dimension are said to be traditional and not keen to save for the future while those whose scores are high are practical, encourages thrift and considers education as necessary to prepare for the future.
Among the 4 countries in focus, the Philippines is the most short-term oriented society. It has a score of 27 while Malaysia has 41 and Vietnam 57. South Korea is one of the most long-term oriented societies in the world. They scored 100 in this dimension.
Indulgence versus Restraint (IND)
Hofstede (2011) explained that “indulgence indicates the degree at which a society allows for relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun, while restraint stands for the degree of a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.”
The higher the score in this dimension, the more indulgent are the people living in the society and the lower the score, the more that they exercise self-restraint. Indulgence, as Hofstede (2011) explained is “the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses”. He added that “indulgent societies show a willingness to pursue impulses and desires. People in these countries are known to possess positive attitudes. Conversely, those living in restrained societies feel that indulging themselves is considered wrong. They control the gratification of their desires and do not prioritize leisure time.”
Among the Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia scored the highest in this dimension - 57. It means that their culture is one of indulgence. The other 3 countries are all classified as restrained. Philippines and Vietnam scored 42 and 35 respectively. South Korea has the lowest score - 29.
C. The Status of National Development in the Countries in Focus
As previously mentioned, there are different indicators and indices in measuring the growth a nation has achieved and they may fall under any of the following categories: economic, social, and political. The most commonly used among them are economic measures, such as GNP and GDP.
But using purely economic measures to determine how far a country has gone in its quest for development is turning a blind eye to the fact that there are other metrics that should be considered aside from money. One of the goals of national development is to improve the lives of people and measuring that improvement only through economic gains is deemed by many as both insufficient and inaccurate. Fox (2012) divulged that “economists and national leaders are increasingly talking about measuring a country’s status with other metrics including even with a squishy-seemingly concept like happiness”
Figure 2. Human Development Index (HDI)
The United Nations endorses the Human Development Index (HDI) as a way to measure national development multidimensionally. HDI measures both social and economic development of countries based on the following criteria: health, education, and standard of living. This concept was pioneered by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq. Figure 2 shows the specific indicators under each criterion or dimension.
The HDI is calculated as the geometric mean (equally weighted) of life expectancy, education, and GNI per capita. Education is the arithmetic mean of the two education indices - mean of years of schooling [for adults aged 25 years and older] and the expected years of schooling [for children of school-going age] (Roser, 2014).
But the HDI also has its share of criticisms. Critics say that it is conceptually weak and empirically unsound. They argued that HDI assigns weights to certain factors that are equal trade-offs when these measurements may not always be equally valuable. They also pointed out that HDI correlates factors that are more common in developed economies (Investopedia, 2021). However, it may take considerable time before the best way to measure national development that everybody would unanimously find acceptable could be developed. At least the HDI is an attempt to evaluate national development holistically and it is through the HDI lens that development in the countries in focus for this analysis were viewed.
Table 2. Human Development Index (HDI) Ranking - 2020
Source: https://www.hdr.undp.org LEB - Life Expectancy at Birth MYS - Mean Years of Schooling EYS - Expected Years of Schooling GNI - Gross National Income
As can be gleaned from Table 2, among the countries in focus in this analysis, South Korea is ranked the highest. It is no longer surprising that it has the highest GNI because as previously mentioned South Korea is ranked 10th among the wealthiest nations in the world (Global PEO Services, n.d.). And while the economies of Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and the rest of the world were reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, that of South Korea continues to grow.
Table 2 also shows that in South Korea, lifespan is longer and the education level is higher than in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
As reported by the Korean Herald early this year (2021), “ROK’s growth pace in life span is among the fastest in the world and newborns are expected to see their life expectancy reach 85.5 years in 2040.”
How far the gap between South Korea and the said countries, as far as the education level is concerned, could be inferred from the fact that South Korea has 2 universities in the top 50 of the QS World University 2020 Rankings while there is none from the other countries. Malaysia, however, has one of its universities in the top 100 ranking. Within that particular level, South Korea has a total of 5 universities in the top 100 ranking.
Among the Southeast Asian countries covered in this analysis, Malaysia has the best HDI scores. Its GNI is far higher as compared to that of the Philippines and Vietnam. The lifespan in Malaysia is also longer and the level of education is higher than that in the other two SEA countries.
HDI rankings for 2020 confirms that South Korea is far ahead in social and economic development when compared to Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Several questions were asked previously and perhaps the most significant of them is “What made South Koreans attain the prosperity and stability they are now experiencing?”. Has their collective character as people evaluated through Hofstede’s measures of cultural values brought them to where they are now?
As we conclude this analysis, the following question should also be asked: “Can the difference between the social and economic development in South Korea and in the three SEA nations be attributed to the differences in their scores for the 6 dimensions of national culture?
The scores of the 4 countries in the power distance index indicate that their societies are hierarchical. People in the said countries bestow much power and respect to their leaders sometimes to a fault. But it should be noted that the least hierarchical among them is South Korea. What could have made South Korea the least hierarchical among the countries in focus is the fact that it was colonized (by Japan) for not as long as Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam were occupied by their colonizers.
Malaysia has the highest power distance score and is therefore considered the most hierarchical among the 4 countries. Sweetman (2012) explained that “this extreme division of power traces back to a legacy of the joint Malay system and the influence of the British. As a result, Malay culture is very respectful of a complex, nuanced system of titled classes and untitled commoners, and tends to grant much power to those at the top of an organization.”
Philippine society is also very hierarchical. It should be noted that like the Malaysians’, the Filipinos’ culture is Malay in origin. And like Malaysia, the Philippines was also colonized, in this case, by Spain and the USA. It can be inferred that colonized people are very likely to accept that power is shared unequally. Thus, even in Vietnam, which was once a colony of France, the power distance score is also considerably high.
While the South Koreans respect their leaders, they also demand accountability from them in a way that none of the other countries do. This can be inferred from the fact that when their past presidents were proven beyond reasonable doubt to be guilty of any crime while they were in office, they landed in jail. Park Geun-hye was the latest among former presidents in South Korea to be sent to jail. She was convicted of abuse of power and coercion after she was impeached in 2017. None of the past presidents or prime ministers in the other SEA countries under analysis were imprisoned except for Joseph Estrada, former president of the Philippines, who was imprisoned in 2001 for graft and corruption.
If accountability can be demanded by Southeast Asian people from their leaders, perhaps the latter would be obliged to perform better which could have resulted in their countries becoming wealthier and more developed than they are currently.
In the dimension called individualism, all countries scored low and are therefore considered collectivists. Asians are really known for their collectivistic nature. But the people of Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam were colonized by countries in the West where individualism is strong. There is the likelihood that these people may have somehow absorbed the individualistic tendencies of their colonizers. On the other hand, South Korea’s colonizer was another Asian country that also embraces collectivism. Scores in this dimension have shown that the Philippines is the least collectivistic and South Korea the most. It should be noted that the Philippines was a colony of countries from the West for almost 400 years.
And is it but a coincidence that the least hierarchical and most collectivistic among the nations under analysis is also the wealthiest?
According to Hofstede, the dimensions of power distance and individualism are significantly correlated with wealth. What could be inferred from this is that the less hierarchical and the more collectivistic a society is, the more prosperous it could become. This is something that Southeast Asian people need to think about.
Based on the comparable scores from the four countries, the citizens of South Korea are the least hierarchical and the most collectivist in the group and their country is ranked the highest in the Human Development Index among the four countries, not only in 2020 but in the past 5 years as well. And when the HDI computation for 2021 would come out, it is very likely that South Korea’s ranking would not be overtaken by any of the other countries.
In addition, in the dimension called long term orientation, the South Koreans scored the highest among the 4 groups of people under analysis. Theirs is one of the most long-term oriented societies in the world. Hofstede found how strongly correlated this dimension is to economic growth from the study conducted by Chinese scholars (Chinese Cultural Connection, 1987). He attributed the characteristic of the South Koreans of being long-term oriented to their Confucian heritage.
It is then reasonable to attribute South Korea’s success to the propensity of its citizens to plan ahead and invest for the future as well as of the capability of their leaders to formulate and implement the right economic policies.
The South Koreans spent a lot of money not only for regular schooling but also on "after-school” or private education. It is common knowledge that parents in South Korea would send their children to private institutions or academies (hagwons) to either supplement what they learn from regular schools or to acquire additional knowledge and skills in areas that were not included in their school curriculum. The average monthly spending on private education per student reached 289,000 won (roughly US$ 243) in 2020 (Korea JoongAng Daily, 2021). No better proof could be presented as to how seriously these people take education than the fact that their universities consistently land in the top 100 universities in the world.
Why education is such a big deal to the South Koreans can be traced back to their culture. “Education has been considered an important right for long in Korean society. Education has been considered important because of the Confucian tradition of respecting learning and the particular national desire for greater achievements (Ministry of Education-ROK, n.d.)”
Leaders of Southeast Asian countries should seriously consider looking at South Korean models when formulating their policies in the field of education. They need to study how ROK consistently managed to put 2 of its universities in the top 50 (and 5 in the top 100) in world university yearly rankings and why their 15-year-old children are among the best in reading, math, and science. They could send their educational experts to the high-ranking Korean universities to study their best practices and determine which of those could be applied to their own universities. They also need to take into consideration the loopholes in the educational policies they wish to adapt and see to it that they consider the possible problems it could bring, particularly in terms of social costs.
There are what may be considered as inconsistencies in the labeling of attributes of the people in the countries under study through their scores in Hofstede’s 6-D model. One is South Korea getting classified as a feminine society due to its low score in the masculinity dimension. In masculine societies, competition is very strong thus strength, decisiveness, and assertiveness are needed. Those who are familiar with the South Koreans know how extreme the competition is in South Korean workplaces and schools. This is why the South Korean culture scoring low in this dimension may be considered inaccurate.
Philippine society becoming masculine can be attributed to the fact that Filipinos were hardened by the many centuries of colonization and their country being visited by numerous typhoons every year. The other three countries were not colonized as long as the Philippines was. These people have endured much that for them to survive, they need to be tough.
For the dimension of uncertainty avoidance, South Korea scored the highest. Here is where another inconsistency could be observed. People of this country are indeed hardworking and are punctual. But according to Hofstede, another characteristic that could be ascribed to people scoring high in this dimension is their resistance to innovation. To say that South Koreans are aversive to changes or hesitant to innovate is seemingly counter intuitive. All the successes South Korea has been achieving in fields such as science, technology, engineering, and entertainment, are driven by innovations. Those who are familiar with South Korea know how strong they are in the areas of research and development. This has led them to a lot of discoveries and innovations in various fields. As a matter of fact, leaders of Southeast Asian nations should strive to improve the research and development capabilities of their countries and they could certainly learn a lot from the South Koreans in the said areas.
South Korea is also considered as the most restrained among the 4 countries. They do not prioritize leisure time. They would rather be busy with work. People of this country are known to work long hours. This is to be expected from people to whom seemingly hard work is considered a virtue. Kim (2021) reported that South Koreans worked 1,976 hours a year per employee in 2019, 241 hours more than the OECD average of 1,726 hours.
Hofstede’s 6-D model shows that the South Koreans are the least hierarchical, most collectivist, the most feminine, the most uncomfortable with uncertainty, the most long-termed oriented, and the most restrained among the group of people whose national culture and human development were analyzed. Whether the combination of these characteristics is the key to attaining progress or not is hard to tell. But what is clear is that the people of South Korea possessing those qualities have helped their nation attain their current lofty position in the global community. However, South Korea’s progress has come at a price. Hultberg, Calonge, and Kim (2017), citing OECD’s statistics, divulged that South Korea’s economic success has led to significant social problems - the highest suicide rate among the OECD nations, soaring divorce rate, and decreasing fertility rate.
The cultural dimensions in Hofstede’s 6-D model embody specific behavior, convictions, traits, values, beliefs, and mindsets. Those that the people of South Korea have among them are worth emulating. People in Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian nations may perhaps consider embracing, not only the music, movies, TV dramas, food, and fashion of the South Koreans but also their cultural and behavioral orientations that are considered positive and applicable to them. In particular, the leaders of the said countries should consider looking at South Korean models when formulating their policies in the fields of education, research and development but at the same time also study how they could avoid the social problems besetting South Korea.
Dr. Massuline Antonio D. Ligaya is an assistant professor at Hanseo University where he teaches English and at the same time serves as adviser to graduate students writing their dissertations. He started his career as a teacher in the Philippines in 1988 and came to South Korea in 2013 for teaching.
Massiline Antonio D. Ligaya는 현재 한서대학교에서 조교수로 영어를 가르치는 동시에 대학원생들의 논문 지도교수로 재직 중입니다. 1988년 처음 필리핀에서 교사로 경력을 시작해서 지난 30년간 학계에 몸담은 그는 2013년 한국에 와서 교수로 활동중입니다.
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