[OUTLOOK]For stability in education effortsThe minister of education has been changed seven times over the past four years. The hopes we have in the newly appointed minister are high because of his expertise in education and broad experience as an administrator. However, with barely a year left in the president's term, the new minister has a long list of things to do.
He has to deal with the problem of Koreans who emigrate for education, the increase in private lesson fees, the distrust of the people in government policies and the low morale of professional educators. To solve these problems, the minister needs a precise understanding of how things currently stand in the schools and classrooms.
The first thing the minister needs to do is to convince professional educators that there is reason for them to put their hearts back in their jobs. Our classrooms are falling apart because teachers have no enthusiasm about teaching. No matter how deprived classrooms are of other necessities, they wouldn't be falling apart if they were staffed by dedicated teachers. On the other hand, no matter how well furnished a classroom is, it will not be able to provide a good education if there is no enthusiasm and sense of duty on the teacher's part. It won't take much to boost teachers' morale. They just need to be convinced that they, too, are partners in educational reform. We need to allow teachers to participate actively in government policy decisions and respect their opinions.
The government must also learn to keep its promises to teachers. A good example of a government failure to keep its word is the absence of the promised "eminent teachers" program, a program to recognize outstanding teachers. Legal teeth are needed to guarantee that agreements between the ministry and the association of teachers are carried out. This is where trust starts.
The second thing the minister must do is get rid of the fancy that competition alone can guarantee improvement in the quality of education. Education is different from other services that are provided on the basis of supply and demand in the market. Education is based on human love and relationships. A system of paying incentives to teachers according to their ranks could in reality be of little help to those who are truly devoted to their classes. A program that lets teachers improve themselves through their own efforts is more effective than a system of rankings. Also, instead of the logic that one old teacher put out to pasture equals 2.5 new teachers coming in, there should be a consideration of what harm the loss of many experienced teachers at once might do to education.
Third, the minister must put administration in the hands of professional educators and not bureaucrats. The reason that all these education policies have little to do with real-life classrooms is because they do not reflect the opinions of teachers with real-life experience. The number of professional educators doing administrative work in the Ministry of Education has been decreasing annually, and the number of experienced educators in important posts concerning teaching policies in elementary, middle and high schools is close to zero. The law must be amended to let experienced teachers play a bigger role in administration. A new division supervising the use of science and technology in education must be formed while divisions in direct contact with schools, like the school health division, should include more professionals.
The same goes for local government education policies. Only 2 out of the 16 vice superintendents in charge of education policies in major cities and provinces have experience as professional educators, while the other 14 are civil officials detailed from the central government. There should be a double-track system of appointing vice superintendents, one from administration and another from a professional field, as is the case with vice governors of provinces. In this way, the administration would not just rule over the schools, but could actually support the schools in their teaching and learning programs.
Finally, government policies on education should be long-term and consistent, not shortsighted and abrupt. Even if the policies do not get immediate public approval, the right policies, as determined by experienced professional educators, should be chosen over instantly popular but wrong policies.
But what is most needed is a supervisory organ for education policy independent from the central administration and with its independence guaranteed by the constitution. Such an organ would lead to stability and consistency of educational policies. Should the new minister of education lay out plans for such an organ, he would be remembered in history for his achievement.
The writer is the president of the Korean Federation of Teachers' Associations.
by Lee Koon-hyon