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Education act passes Assembly

The bill would mean sweeping changes for public school system

Feb 22,2014
The National Assembly on Thursday passed a bill that would effectively ban all elementary, middle and high schools in Korea from teaching beyond what is defined in class guidelines and textbooks, beginning in September.

However, views are split over the effectiveness of the bill, which is aimed at normalizing the public education system and reducing rampant and expensive private education, thus lowering the spending of households with underage students.

Under the special act, educators in the public school system will be prohibited from teaching advance material in courses, giving tests that cover advance material or even conducting evaluations that may be considered teaching ahead.

Teachers or schools found to be in violation of the regulations will be subject to suspensions or a reduction in government funding. Some may have their student quota slashed or, in a worst-case scenario, be barred from recruiting new students.

Likewise, private education institutes, or hagwon, will also be banned from advertising advanced courses. However, the bill would not prevent those facilities from teaching material in advance.

At some hagwon, located in an affluent neighborhood in southern Seoul, some elementary school students were found to be learning college-level English and mathematics to prepare them for admission to prestigious middle or high schools, and eventually Ivy League universities. The private academies charge millions of won in tuition fees per month.

To ensure that regulations are evenly carried out, the special act also stipulates that entrance exams for elementary, middle, high schools and universities cannot test applicants’ knowledge of material that is beyond their grade level. Admissions tests for foreign-language high schools, for instance, are notoriously more difficult than those for ordinary high schools.

Still, the bill’s guidelines have led some critics to argue that the new measures would not effectively rein in the private education market.

In a poll on Wednesday of 700 citizens nationwide by JTBC, the broadcasting arm of JoongAng Media Network, only 22.4 percent believed that the bill would reduce demand for private education, whereas 63.2 percent said it will have no effect. The former also predicted that regular curricula at schools would improve following the bill’s implementation and that parents’ attitudes toward private education would change over time.

The latter, however, claimed the ban would only apply to public schools, and that private education institutes would continue providing services as they always have, especially considering that only advertising would be prohibited.

“I’m afraid the new act will only end up bloating the pockets of hagwon,” said Park Yoon-soo, a mother of two elementary school students.

BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]



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