Two Tunes of Education Policy Never Harmonize

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Two Tunes of Education Policy Never Harmonize

The homepage of the Ministry of Education (MOE) has an average of 10 visits a day from students wishing to report their schools for illegal activity. Their two paramount concerns are their schools’ violation of the laws regulating the number of practice examinations they can take for the all-important university entrance exams (twice a year in the case of the third grade of high school), and schools forcing them to stay behind for ‘after-school study’, a tradition ironically called ‘voluntary study’ in Korean.

These two things are mainly regulated by the MOE, not local education offices, although education offices in each province and city take charge of virtually all aspects of education. The education minister has announced that he will take a firm stand against excessive practice tests and ‘voluntary study’.

However, prior to the summer vacation, most ‘hagwons’ arrange tests running from June 15 to 21. ‘Hagwons’ are after-class study centers common throughout Korea - so common that students who don‘t attend are likely to feel they are being left behind. This practice has caused controversy in the educational circle.

A high-school student reported that his school publicly denounced those who failed to enter trial examinations to shame them into participation.

In response to the students’ protests, the MOE has asked local education offices to crack down on these practices, adding the proviso that, “It’s our duty to make policies, but not to enforce them.”

However, education offices are complaining that the regulations are too uniform and indiscriminate to be applied to the present circumstances.

Equally contentious is the matter of private tuition. The ban on extra home education has been ruled unconstitutional and the MOE has admitted that its attempt to bar private tuition was illegal. The education ministry vowed to impose standards on the amount of money students should pay for private learning. This presents another minefield, as the price parents and students are prepared to pay varies according to income and the importance placed on extra tuition. The education committee charged with standardizing the maximum limit on private tutoring are finding it a challenge. Still, high-ranking officials at the MOE are insisting on the need to set up standard which discriminates between reasonable and over-priced private tuition.

President Kim Dae-jung once vowed to designate the post of education minister as a deputy prime ministerial-level position in order to lend more support to this area of government.

A Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education insider pointed out, “The post of deputy prime minister shouldn’t be devoted to regulating trial examinations, ‘self-study’, or standardizing fees for private tuition.“

Commentators argue that the MOE should relinquish its role in these matters to the more savvy education offices, according to region.

by Kang Hong-jun

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