Gender representation in Middle School Moral Education Textbooks in South Korea, 1973-2019


 Presenter (s) Jilli Jung, Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation

As the Dakar Framework for Action called for “eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education” in 2000, the publication of gender-equitable curricular and textbooks has emerged as one of main educational goals in a global society (Blumberg, 2007; UNESCO, 2000: 16-17). Since textbooks are powerful instruments to convey the belief and value of society as “official knowledge” (Apple & Christian-Smith, 1991; Mirza, 2004), and textbooks are one of the most influential class materials (Loan et al., 2010), gender bias and underrepresentation in textbooks do matter. For this reason, studies pertaining to gender bias and representation in textbooks have flourished in recent years.

However, despite its important function in understanding whether and how gender bias and representation in textbooks have changed over time, systematic longitudinal research addressing these questions is largely absent (see, notable exception, Nakagawa & Wotipka, 2016; Russell, Lerch, & Wotipka, 2018). Moreover, while the world culture perspective (e.g., Nakagawa & Wotipka, 2016; Russell et al., 2018) indicates a worldwide shift in gender representation in textbooks, little has been known about whether such “global” trend is also found in countries like South Korea (hereafter Korea), where authoritarian and patriarchal traditions weigh heavily in much of society.

To fill such important gaps in the existing literature, this study aims to examine whether gender representation has expanded in Korea corresponds to the global education standard. Special attention is given to moral education textbooks, as moral education in Korea has played a pivotal role in conveying traditional values (e.g., filial duty and loyalty) and building national identity among students. It is relatively recently that the core elements of the global educational model (e.g., global citizenship, environmentalism, and multiculturalism) have been incorporated in Korean moral education textbooks.

To this end, this study analyzes 22 middle school moral education textbooks that have been published in Korea from 1973 to 2019. Specifically, I examine and compare the frequency of female representations in such domains as politics, professionals, household responsibilities, and intellectual traditions. This study also explores whether a series of global gender equality trends (e.g., Dakar Framework for Action Goal 5, Millennium Development Goal 3, and article 10 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) can account for changes in gender presentations in Korean moral education textbooks.

My content analyses show that while gender representation has gradually increased over time, gender bias has been persistent in South Korean moral education textbook, with female invisibility in public realms, gender stereotypes in domestic roles, and disparities in utterances of female philosophers. This study also finds that this trend follows closely the global education standard claimed by the world culture perspective. Theoretical and policy implications based on the study’s empirical findings will be discussed in the full paper.

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