[EDITORIALS]For Better SchoolsPresident Kim Dae-jung said recently that the government will put forward comprehensive measures to enhance the treatment of teachers as soon as possible, saying it is necessary to boost their morale. Picking up on his remarks, the ruling Millennium Democratic Party said yesterday it will actively pursue measures to "normalize" public education. At the same time, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights advised Seoul to improve its public education system especially by measures to lift the burden of private education from parents. ECOSOC said in its evaluation of Korea that the low-quality public education system is forcing parents to turn to private education. It is shameful and puts us at a loss for words when we are told that our public education system is at a level called lacking by the United Nations, despite the fact that education reform has been emphasized by every administration.
What is the real situation in public education? Because our education policy for the past 20 years has resulted in students' low academic levels, classrooms long ago collapsed. Some students regard private educational institutes as the place for real study, and consider schools the place either to supplement their work at private institutes or to supplement their sleep. Teachers' morale is at rock-bottom because of such steps as setting an earlier retirement age for teachers. Because of this dysfunctional public education system, the money that parents spent on private education was calculated at over 7 trillion won ($5.4 billion), close to one third of the government's total annual education budget of 22.7 trillion won.
The initiative to repair public education drawn up by the ruling party includes steps to increase the number of teachers and to reduce drastically the trivial duties that teachers are currently required to do in addition to teaching. Teachers are asked to play three or even five roles at a time. When the Korean Federation of Teachers' Associations surveyed about 2,600 elementary, middle and high school teachers, they chose administrative burdens and trivial extracurricular jobs as their biggest problems. The "informatization" initiative that has been actively pursued by the government has not helped much. Although 10,000 elementary, middle and high schools were connected with broadband data links, the network is not exploited in teaching very much, and some schools complain that they cannot afford the telecommunications costs. Since the "government of the people" took office, many teachers have left schools as a result of so-called reform plans, but the void left by their departure has not been filled.
Without releasing teachers from minor chores, public education cannot be improved because teachers cannot dedicate themselves only to teaching. Therefore, It is necessary to increase drastically the number of teachers. In advanced countries, one teacher usually teaches 10 to 20 students in a class at elementary schools, whereas Korean teachers educate as many as 31students. Teachers also need to be given better treatment.
But the "giveaway" polices of simply trying to boost the morale of teachers or improving the educational environment cannot repair our damaged educational system. To enhance educational quality, it is essential to improve the quality of teachers. A comprehensive system, including retraining teachers and devising clear promotion and compensation standards must be set up. Measures to enhance morale are necessary, but not sufficient.