[OUTLOOK]Education: The answer is easyThe most important issue in Korean households is children's education. Parents who are dissatisfied with the domestic edification system are sending their elementary, middle- and high-school children overseas if the family's circumstances allow it.
It's hard to find an accurate figure, but according to the Korean Educational Develop-ment Institute, about 10,000 to 12,000 new students are sent overseas annually for education. Some students study overseas because their parents work abroad, but there are many parents who work abroad for the sole purpose of their children's education.
The practice was somewhat muted in 1998 and 1999, but skyrocketed last year. Students attending high school abroad amount to about 20 percent of our educational expatriates; elementary students are 45 percent of the total and middle school students make up the remaining 35 percent.
There are an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 students receiving their pre-university education overseas. Because each student could spend an average of about $20,000 per year, the total expenditures on students studying abroad could be $1 billion to $1.2 billion.
For parents of children 10 to 15 years old, it may be difficult to make a decision about sending their children abroad. They might say something about their desire for a quality education for their children. Others might find a reason for sending their children abroad in the fact that there is no guarantee that the huge expenses they pay for private tuition here will result in the child's acceptance into a good Korean university. And, of course, the children can learn a foreign language, nearly always English, if they go abroad for their education.
Other than the financial burden, the family separation because of early education abroad brings a great deal of pain that cannot be compensated for. Sometimes the father is left behind in Seoul while the mother and the children move overseas to seek a better education. Adolescence is a difficult time for children in local schools who are trying to adapt to society, but it is even more difficult for students studying overseas to work their way through adolescence because they are in a strange and unfamiliar culture.
We must consider the fact that the sentiment and the culture of students who spent their elementary and middle school years overseas turn out to be those of the host country.
This would not be a problem if the students studying overseas want to live their lives entirely abroad, but it is important in social life to be as fluent in Korean as they are in English if they return to Korea. Parents must carefully mull over the pros and cons of early education abroad.
This social problem - and it certainly is one - boils down to the failure of the domestic education system. Parents feel they have no choice but to send their young children abroad despite the financial burden and the separation of the family.
The biggest problem in our present educational system is its low quality; an unnecessary financial burden is imposed on parents for extracurricular studies and the future of the children is still uncertain. A standardized educational curriculum has been forced on this country; that ignores the people's needs and is simply bad policy. Government tenacity on standardizing education has forced the system on both public and private schools.
The objective answers to the problem are not difficult. The educational system should provide choices for consumers. Starting from high school, the government should allow schools to be self-regulating, and give students and parents the right to choose. Schools should decide their educational aims and methods themselves, be it preparing students for university acceptance, lecturing in English, innovating with high-tech classes or preparing students to attend universities abroad.
Students should be given the right to choose from a wide variety of schools and select the one the student believes fits him the best. In other words, domestic schools should be able to provide the type of education that can be provided to students in schools abroad.
Our people should have the right to select the standards and the structure of the education they desire without having to separate students from their parents. On what grounds can the government stifle our people's basic desire to receive a high-quality education?
After the financial crisis that swept the Asian region in 1997, our society has rapidly become a society which recognizes people on their achievements. The government should not insist on the 1970s logic of standardization but accept a new education principle ?the right to choose.
The writer is a professor of business administration at Yonsei University.
by Jung Ku-hyun