The Saemaul Undong (New Community Movement), a nationwide Korean community development movement initiated in 1971, has contributed much to the rapid transformation of rural settings and even of people’s attitudes to development. Rural poverty was widespread, and discontent had increased by the end of the 1960s when the discrepancy between rural and urban communities grew as a result of urban industrialisation. The Saemaul Movement, which began as an attempt to balance rural development and urban industrialisation, has considerably reduced rural poverty and the rural/urban gap; rural people in Korea are no longer poverty-stricken in an absolute sense.

Saemaul education, a nationwide adult nonformal education programme to promote the Saemaul Movement, has played an integral and pivotal role in every aspect of the Movement. Most of the village leaders called Saemaul leaders and many high-ranking officials and intellectuals have undergone Saemaul education programmes at national or local level. Most Saemaul education programmes have been pursued not on a voluntary basis but through bureaucratic channels. However, village-based and small community-based Saemaul education not imposed by the authorities has also been undertaken in many villages by enthusiastic village leaders to mobilise residents. These projects seem to have been more successful and to have reduced poverty to a great extent.

This study deals with the process and substance of Saemaul education in general and with a model village. Saemaul education is analysed generally and in terms of its contribution to the reduction of poverty. A field survey was conducted in a model village (Chilwon-Ri) where Saemaul education played 159an indispensable role in rapid reduction of poverty. Data gathered through interviews and observation are analysed and presented descriptively.

Saemaul education, like the overall Saemaul Movement, was not specially designed to benefit the rural poor, but gave an impetus from which the poor as well as all others might be able to benefit. Village leaders, including Saemaul leaders taught especially at the Saemaul Leaders’ Training Institute, have been influential in motivating and mobilising villagers, rich and poor, to work together for the development of their communities. The model village reveals that the Saemaul leaders who emphasised farmer education could better achieve development goals and contribute to the reduction of poverty of all villagers.