[VIEWPOINT] Remedies for Dysfunctional Education

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[VIEWPOINT] Remedies for Dysfunctional Education

Korea is drowning under a torrent of criticisms against the numbing state of the nation's education. All the problems that had been an implicit part of its education system, from the paralyzed class education to the collapsed public education system, from the mushrooming private tutoring to the recent emigration rush in search for better education for one's children, seem to be gushing out of an open floodgate.

To summarize the current status of the nation's crippled education, students are forced to lead a gruesome life throughout their school years, cramming from daylight to midnight without respite, and yet failing to learn essential values, such as knowledge, creativity and courtesy. This is the main reason that compels many parents to leave their native country and live as immigrants in a foreign land so that their children can receive better education.

Tongue-lashing and criticisms are also strong against educational policies, which are fingered as the key culprit that pushed the nation's education system to such an abysmal state. Critics claim that virtually every policy the government has devised so far to solve problems in education failed in its purpose.

The nation's educational system is being battered from head to toe as reproach after reproach continues against the apathetic educational state and the government's educational policies. It seems Korea's education cannot possibly get worse from the current state.

Some newspapers are publishing special features on education to point to the myriad problems. I believe the articles are written primarily to voice the concern that our education system cannot be left to flounder in the current state, and to point to the need for a fundamental overhaul. Nonetheless, I cannot help worrying whether unmasking the problems so starkly and probing mercilessly into the depths might not fill us with a sense of shame and frustration, and discourage us from seeking improvement without even trying.

There are teachers doing their best to guide their students without a word of complaint as they work under substandard conditions and sometimes under educational policies oblivious of their plight. There are also teenagers studying diligently under the inferior educational conditions. We have to give them hope and courage. Instead of disclosing and assailing the problems, a better way of helping will be comprehensively diagnosing the causes in search for the clues for improvement

Students learn the knowledge, skills, attitude and values necessary for self-realization and a life after school through education. Education has to provide the necessary conditions and motivate students to work to acquire such knowledge. But no one can deny that our education system provides neither the conditions nor the motives for gaining the knowledge useful for self-achievement and adapting to the society.

First of all, the school system itself eschews the education essential for teaching creative and useful knowledge because of its predominant focus on steering students through the barrier of college entrance examination. The college entrance-oriented education is a product of our society's traditional worship of learning human science and the obsessive drive to join elitist circles through academic achievements.

Because of these social perceptions, new reform policies and innovative teaching methods have a hard time taking root in the educational forum focused on college admission.

Then there is the parents' selfish concept of education centered exclusively on their children, which prods school education to place increasing emphasis on students' gaining admission to prestigious universities. We need a cultural shift first to ameliorate the distortions and other problems in education and help it function properly.

The rigid educational system and the constant shifts in educational policies also further confound students, parents and teachers. The rigidity in our education system narrows the range of choices for those requiring education, and pushes the students who err even once out of the stiff competition. Under this system, a student's life is swayed by the scores of a single state-administered college entrance examination.

The chaotic educational policies are not only detrimental to educators but also to students who have to decide on their future course. The lack of consistency is not unrelated to the frequent replacement of the education minister. To secure constancy in educational policies, it is essential to create a permanent educational policy body on a state level, one that is not influenced by the political sector in formulating mid- to long-term educational plans and pursuing them consistently.

The educational environment below par is another obstacle to implementing a proper education. While emphasizing the importance of educational reform and developing human resources, the government's investments on education always ranked low in its priority. If we are to boast one of the greatest educational zeal in the world, corresponding investments must follow.

We must also secure stable financial resources to improve the educational environment. We must place an even greater emphasis on the importance of education in this age of knowledge-based society because its key activities, such as the creation, propagation and use of new knowledge, are possible only through education. We need exceptional and firm measures to increase the investments on education in order for Korea to become a strong knowledge-based nation.

writer -----------------------------------------------------------------------

The writer is a researcher at Korea Educational Development Institute.

by Kim Young-chul

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