The seven-member K-pop group BTS is widely regarded as the most popular boy band in the world. Since their debut in 2013, BTS has broken numerous records in the music industry, most recently earning the title of YouTube’s most-viewed music video premiere with its new single "Dynamite," which hit more than 100 million views in the 24 hours after its release.
But the group's members are not only known for their catchy tunes, swoon-worthy dance moves, and ever-changing hair colors. BTS' philanthropic work has made a difference in raising awareness and funds for many issues around the world, including education development.
The Jeonnam Office of Education shared the news on Monday, stating that Jimin’s father had delivered the donation on his son’s behalf on July 29, and asked the foundation to use it for students who are financially in need in Jeonnam, the country’s South Jeolla Province.
South Korea has come a long way in expanding education for its citizens, and, as a result, in reducing poverty as well. In 1945, the country’s literacy rate was at 22%, and less than 2% of its population was enrolled in higher education. Today, South Korea is regarded as one of the most educated countries in the world.
But this progress did not come easily. The Korean War in the 1950s was ruinous for the country, and left it as one of the poorest in the world for almost a decade. But the government committed to investing in education, even during this period of economic downfall.
In fact, the country more than doubled its share of the budget for education in 1955, increasing it to 9.4%. And by the end of the 1970s, the share of the budget for education had reached an average of more than 17%.
One of the first policy changes the government made was to make primary education mandatory. This resulted in the country reaching 96% in primary school enrollment by the end of the 1950s.
Another action the government took was establishing a five-year plan to eradicate illiteracy. The goal was to educate citizens who did not get primary education, so that they would be able to read and write at a second-grade level. The literacy rate of those over 12 years old reached 96% by 1958.
Today, South Korea has achieved universal adult literacy and has one of the highest tertiary education rates globally. It is also one of the world’s top global economies with GDP per capita exceeding $30,000, compared to $100 in the early 1960s.
The United Nations has long called for countries to invest in education as a key factor to ending extreme poverty. World poverty could be cut in half if all adults completed secondary education, according to UNESCO.
Often referred to as the great equalizer, education equips people with the skills and resources to advance in the workforce and support their families. This means that investing in education creates a positive feedback loop that leaves the country richer as more people are contributing to the economy.
Although this is Jimin’s first time donating to the South Jeolla Province, it isn’t his first contribution toward education development. In 2019, the 24-year-old musician gave back to his hometown of Busan, donating 100 million won to the Busan Metropolitan Office of Education for student welfare. Earlier this year, he made a donation to his alma mater Busan High School of Arts, where he gifted new desks and chairs to the school’s 1,200 students.
When Jimin’s family couldn’t afford to pay for his dance school, the school didn’t want to lose a talent like him so they said he didn’t have to pay. I think that has stayed with him even until now and he pays it forward with all his donations to education and helping students 🥺— #JIMIN Gem¹³ (ia)💛 (@pjmgem) August 24, 2020
Education has been a core philanthropic area for the group. In 2018, BTS joined the UN in launching Generation Unlimited, a global partnership that aims to expand education, training, and employment opportunities for young people.
BTS also started “Love Myself” in 2017, an anti-violence campaign in partnership with UNICEF that supports young people who have experienced school violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault around the world. The campaign has raised $2.6 billion won (more than $2 million USD) as of November 2019, with proceeds going toward education and support programs to aid violence prevention.
As for the South Korean government, it is continuing to move toward more equal education opportunities. The country currently provides free elementary and middle school education for all, but President Moon Jae-in announced last year that all high school students would also get free education by 2021.