Miriam Chung

What was your first degree and where did you study?

My first degree was a BA (Hons.) in Education/Pedagogy at Ewha Womans University. This university was founded by a Methodist Missionary in 1886 and was the country’s first educational institute for women. When it opened the founder chose the unconventional ‘Womans’ to be part of the university’s name, indicating the importance of each individual woman. Now it is the world’s largest university for women with almost 20,000 students in one campus in Seoul.

I studied three main disciplines, the Philosophy of Education, Comparative Education, and Educational Psychology. In addition, I obtained teaching certificates in moral education and English language. After graduating with my first degree, I taught English as a second language in a secondary school for three years before coming to England.

Why did you choose to study at OUDE?

I was very keen to come to Oxford, which is world-renowned for its academic excellence. By 1975 I was ready to take on the challenge of working for a post-graduate degree. I had to pass an entrance examination, which then allowed me to start the ‘Advanced Certificate in Education’ course (the precursor to the MSc Education course) in 1975.  I was a member of Lady Margaret Hall and was awarded a full scholarship from the British Council.  On the basis of the good training I received at OUDE, I was able to complete my PhD at Edinburgh in 1985.

In those days the changing of the secondary school leaving age and the GCE examination system were at the forefront of the national agenda. I was very fortunate to be able to discuss these topics regularly in my tutorials with Robin Hodgkin, and was asked to write a dissertation on these subjects as a component of the ACE/MSc Diploma.

What is your favourite memory from your time at OUDE?

My favourite memory is of tutorials with Professor Jerome Bruner, then one of the most influential figures in educational thought. He was a pioneer who saw education as a progress rather than a static status of mind. He was critical of behaviourism, preferring cognitive development in learning and thinking. On my first tutorial I had to submit a summary of Jerome’s book on ‘Towards the Theory of Instruction’ with my criticism. Experiencing such invaluable tutorials with a great mind really guided and nurtured me, enabling me to become confident at processing knowledge in a productive manner as opposed to criticism for criticism’s sake.

Apart from the serious hours of study, I have not forgotten the jolly times, punting with classmates and my tutor, Robin Hodgkin.

Who in your professional life has inspired you?

In my academic life I have been inspired by many great minds. During my studentship in the UK I was greatly inspired by three distinguished individuals: Jerome Bruner at Harvard and Oxford, Peter Bryant at Oxford, and Margaret Donaldson at Edinburgh. In particular, I would point to the extent of their creativity and precision, and their natural approach in analyzing children’s intellectual abilities. However, more than that, I was inspired by their humble rather than authoritarian bearing, and the kindness they showed to learners.

I will relate one episode that deeply moved me. Peter Bryant and I carried out a piece of research, exploring the development of children in relation to the concept of number and the influence of language. When submitting our joint article to a journal, I listed him as the first author, with myself as the second. This is standard practice: he was an internationally renowned academic in the field, and it even made sense alphabetically, Bryant before Chung. To my great surprise he insisted that I should be noted as the first author! I was utterly amazed and deeply moved by his humble attitude and intellectual honesty.

Apart from discipline-specific considerations, I have been greatly inspired by a leader with a wider spectrum of influence and future vision. It might have been impossible for me to pursue cross-cultural research between Britain and Korea without the encouragement and spiritual support given by Rev. Dr. Ralph Walker, the principal of Harris Manchester College, my ‘dwelling place’ for the last twenty years. As the students and Fellows of the College have often heard him say, ‘Academic achievement is not only to put pen to paper but to exchange ideas and spark each other for the benefit of humankind’

Looking back at your professional achievements, what are you most proud of?

I am very proud of my original contribution in my PhD thesis at Edinburgh. I was under the supervision of Noel Entwistle and Margaret Donaldson, and asserted ‘free cognitive ability for all’ rather than generalization of intelligence. It was recognized by the external examiner, Professor Peter Bryant at the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford, who, to my surprise, offered me a post-doctoral place after the Viva. And so, in 1985, my academic career got under way. As a member of the Congregation at Oxford from 1996 – 2012, I  played a role in the process of decision making on important issues.

In recent years such an assertion is more widely recognized, as individual differences are now more clearly identified in relating disciplines such as developmental psychology, neuropsychology, and cognitive neuroscience.

Another aspect I am proud of is to have had a positive influence on the development of the Korean education system. On three occasions I have been commissioned by the Korean government to carry out some comparative analyses of the British and Korean education systems. In this work I put forward suggestions for changing the selection procedures for university and for the revival of independent schools. It is very satisfying to see these recommendations being implemented.

I am also proud of having been one of the eighty members of the Education Reform Academics Conference in Britain in 1989 when Minister Robert Jackson was chair for British Higher Education Reform. We had weekly meetings for eight weeks and discussed whether the change of name from polytechnic to university was necessary. In the end we cast votes and the result was to support the change of the name, which brought us to where we are today.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of taking up a career in education?

Firstly, advice for both educators and learners: education involves the devotion of one’s time and effort.

Secondly, the educator learns by teaching.

Thirdly, education is a life-long journey. Those who have been teachers either in schools or in universities are expected by their pupils to be teachers for life. There is no way to avoid it. Teachers are always expected to be teachers, even after retirement.

Fourthly, and most importantly in my opinion, have an open mind and respect individual differences in this vast world population.

Graduates of the 1976 Advanced Certificate in Education course. Miriam is 8th from the left in the 2nd row from the front.