[EDITORIALS]Education Reform Is UrgentIt has come to light that in 2000 Korean parents doled out over 7 trillion won ($5.2 billion) in tutoring fees for their children in primary and secondary schools. The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development commissioned the Korean Educational Development Institute to conduct a survey of 25,000 students, parents and teachers at 125 schools nationwide at the end of last year. According to the survey, tutoring fees for primary and secondary school students were 7.12 trillion won, an increase of 5.2 percent from the 1999 figure. The scale is mind-boggling because this sum amounts to almost a third of the government education budget of 22.7 trillion won.
The government's educational reform policies may have played a role in causing tutoring fees to surge. The surveyed parents believed that tutoring expenses rose in line with the repeal of supplementary lessons at school, the 2002 college admission standards, differing methods of evaluating students' academic performance, aptitude-oriented education to encourage students' gifted areas and the expanded special college admissions. These policies were introduced in the spirit of foregoing rote-memory education and encouraging a reduction in private tutoring fees, but they have been counterproductive.
In a system that assign all students to neighborhood schools regardless of their academic abilities, students' academic levels have been going down and they have been discontented with their schools, leading them to take private lessons. There is even a saying that students study at cramming schools, while they go to school to take it easy. This perception is backed by a recent Korea Development Institute report that college admissions from Seoul's standardized high schools show that college admissions correlate directly with average outside tutoring expenses. The government stuck for some time to the policy of an easy College Scholastic Ability Test in order to lower the burden of tutoring fees. As high school grades are more heavily weighted in college admissions, high schools seem to be competing with each other to give easier tests. Yet, the pressure to seek outside tutoring is on the rise. In this situation, who is ready to take the government's education policy at face value?
In a recent report on the development of human resources, the World Bank pointed out that South Korean students are increasingly dissatisfied with what they learn at school, parents are unhappy about what their children learn at school and companies complain about new recruits' lack of expertise and skills. Its diagnosis is that the government's tight central control over the education system has caused inflexibility and distortion in the system.
Since it has been proven that the current educational systems can not even reduce the burden of tutoring expenses, the authorities should launch all-out educational reform.
To meet the challenges of stiff global economic competition, it is urgent to diversify the education systems and prepare a systematic mechanism to enhance competitiveness. Two directions should be set. The policy of leveling out the educational system should be abandoned, and there should be more competition in education. Second, the government, preoccupied with political objectives such as cracking down on illegal tutoring lessons, should stop distorting or regulating education itself.
Instead, it should find a way to reinforce autonomy in educational institutions to enhance diversity, creativity and competitiveness in our children.