[EDITORIALS]Education Overhaul PromisingThe Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development reported to President Kim Dae-jung on Friday about its plan to improve education environment to accommodate a digital and knowledge-based society. The ministry plans to hire additional 23,600 teachers by 2003 and to improve scholastic ability tests starting in 2005.
The plan also includes proposals to liberate the college admission process in stages and to invite leading graduate schools in foreign countries to open branches in Korea by September of next year. That move will heighten the competitive power of domestic universities.
As we all know, the basis of education policy in a knowledge-based society of the 21st century should be focused on broadening independence and encouraging diversity and creativity. The ministry's recent plan is moving toward that direction. The plan gives back the rights to select applicants to universities and liberates operation of national universities giving them decision on student quotas and management of personnel and finance. The ministry will select about 30 financially independent private high schools this year to begin test-running a new scheme to liberalize school management starting next year.
Unless there is a special reason, education policy should remain unchanged for a certain period. If the government is fickle with its education policy, it is certainly a serious problem. It is not an exaggeration that education policy of our country has changed every time a new education minister was appointed. Students and parents feel extremely unstable whenever the government announces a new college entrance system, wondering when it would be changed again.
A simple example is the scholastic ability test for college admission. The government had persisted in establishing an easy test, arguing to reduce the financial burden of private tutoring on parents. Last year's test failed to perform its function properly because it was too easy; then the government decided to increase the difficulty. The Education Ministry said it would announce a detailed plan for the upcoming test scheduled in December. It should not repeat the same mistake this time.
Increasing the number of teachers is also another problem. After this administration was launched, about 20,000 teachers left schools because of the advanced retirement age. The ministry is now saying to increase 23,000 teachers by spending 1.16 trillion won ($890 million), returning to the same number from a few years ago. The ministry said building more schools and hiring more teachers are unavoidable in order to lower the number of students in each classroom. As of last year, the average number of students per classroom was 35.7 for elementary schools, 38 for junior high schools and 42.7 for high schools. The government plans to reduce the number to 35 for high schools by 2002, and for elementary schools and middle schools by 2003. Nearly 12.3 trillion won of budget is required for such a plan.
Some, led by the economic ministries, doubt the effectiveness of investment. They argue if it is truly necessary to spend enormous money to lower the number of students per classroom slightly. Economic theories cannot always explain investments in education. Yet, the ministry should listen to the criticism and come up with plans to minimize investment.
The Education Ministry announced that it has already finished discussion with the budget ministry about the required budget. Yet, the ministry still needs to set forth a definite plan to supply the budget since elections and the end of this administration's term are coming near.