Progress must not leave behind learner happiness

Gwang-Jo Kim is the Director of UNESCO Bangkok, the Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau of Education. (Photo via

Growing up in rural Korea during the 1950s, our local schoolhouse was the centre of my life.

By modern standards, it would seem rustic and overcrowded, a bare wooden building set amid rice paddies and with classes of well over 70 students at a time. As humble as the conditions were, the school was rich with opportunities to learn, explore nature and form bonds with friends and teachers. It was a place for exploration and wonder, an inexhaustible fountain for young minds thirsty for knowledge. My time there set the course for the rest of my life and looking back the only word that seems to adequately capture that period for me is, simply: happiness.

That schoolhouse is long gone, of course, and my country as it is now would be unrecognisable to my young eyes, having undergone the type of major transformation that has taken place to varying degrees throughout the Asia-Pacific. And as our region has transformed, so too have the learning environments in which our young people find themselves.

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