The context of Songdok: Two purposes of traditional Korean education

Sujin Song, Sanghyun Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study explores the educational meaning of Songdok in traditional Korean education. Songdok refers to the act of memorizing text completely while reading it aloud; however, in traditional Korean education, it used to symbolize ‘learning’ itself. Historically, Songdok was regarded in extreme terms: being criticized as low-level memorization or encouraged as a religious ritual. In the Goryeo Dynasty, when civil service exams were introduced, Songdok was performed to memorize Confucian textbooks solely for passing the exam. However, its status changed in the mid-1600s because of an educational reform movement by Neo-Confucian fundamentalists. Given the widespread perception in South Korea that ‘imitating a saint is a way of learning’, Songdok has been elevated as part of moral consciousness. Here, we discuss how Songdok takes on two opposing educational objectives: One is passing the exam, and the other is imitating a saint. An examination of Songdok provides insightful perspectives on Korean education, especially regarding sluggish moral education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-41
Number of pages9
JournalEducational Philosophy and Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2024


  • civil service examination
  • Neo-Confucianism
  • Purpose of education
  • Songdok


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