[EDITORIALS]The high school dilemma

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[EDITORIALS]The high school dilemma

A recent report by the state-funded Korea Development Institute and a remark by Deputy Prime Minister Jin Nyum, both of which pointed out the harmful effects of the nation's decades-old policy of equalizing high schools, have rekindled the debate over a change of the policy. In its "Vision 2011" report, the state-run think tank argued that with the current equalizing policy, it is hard to expect school reforms. The report proposed that the government give private schools as much independence as possible, allowing parents and students to select schools they prefer.

Critics have long pointed out that equalizing high schools has created various problems including a downward effect which has brought a decline in the scholastic ability of students. This time, the situation is different because an increasing number of lawmakers agree to such complaints. During a speech to legislators Monday, Lee Hoi-chang, the head of the opposition Grand National Party, vowed to "improve the high-school standardization policy, which has lowered students' scholastic abilities and aggravated educational inequality." Mr. Lee also said that it was necessary for the government to make bold investments and introduce competition in education in order to normalize public schools and grant students and their parents the option to choose schools.

As a matter of fact, past debates over standardized education carried ideological implications. Advocates of school standardization were once considered progressive, while their opponents were labeled conservative. Now it is the other way around. Advanced countries are scurrying to draw up ambitious plans to strengthen their public education systems. How long are we going to be engaged in useless ideological debates? We have to stop these time-wasting arguments and overhaul our education system, based on what would be the best for the future of Korea. Education is not the business of one administration. We urge politicians to set up a multipartisan organization to work out fundamental measures.

The policy of equalizing high school education has gone on for 30 years, and scrapping the policy overnight would create chaos and unwanted side effects. Therefore, the big picture for improving the policy should be to find a way for the principle of competition to work, while minimizing undesirable side effects. In order to do that, the government should decide which problems need to be solved and then take a step-by-step approach, before ultimately giving back schools the right to admit students.

For starters, the government should scrap the cross-application system, which allows high schoolers focusing on liberal arts to apply to become science majors in college. As a result of the system, which was adopted four years ago, there is a rampant tendency among high school students to not focus on science studies. Last year, the number of university applicants with a science focus was less than half that of students who concentrated on liberal arts in high school. That helps to explain why businesses are having a hard time finding manpower with expertise in science and technology. For all its efforts to promote science, the government has led students to avoid becoming science majors.

Education is more than a subject of ideological debate for an administration. Although it is late, politicians should make concerted efforts, regardless of their party affiliations, to come up with measures to right the wrongs of our education system.
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