[VIEWPOINT]The high cost of overcoming diseaseThere are two ways of looking at education. One is to see it as a public service to be provided only by the government － that is, education should be a publicly provided service like police and fire protection. That is the way education is usually viewed in most European countries.
The other way to look at education is to see it as a service anyone with qualifications is free to offer. From that viewpoint, education is something akin to finding a lawyer, a doctor or a barber. That is the way education is viewed in countries where the education system stems from the British-American tradition.
In countries like Germany, which holds the view of education as a public service, most educational institutes are public. There are few religious or private schools.
The state plans and provides every aspect of education. That is why, like police stations and fire departments, there are no differences of quality in German schools. Every education institute, from kindergartens to universities, is as good as the other.
On the other hand, those countries that view education as a service that can be offered by anyone with the qualifications to do so have relatively more private schools among the public schools. The private and public schools compete with one another, much as public and private hospitals do.
The role of the government changes according to which view is taken. A government that sees education as a public service would participate in almost all aspects of a school, like the number of students, number of faculty, number of classes per year, number of class hours and so on.
In other words, the government would regulate not only the quality of education but the quantity and the method of education. This is in the same logic as the government regulating services like law enforcement and fire departments.
But if the government adopted the latter view, seeing education as just an ordinary service, it naturally would have a smaller role. The part government plays in private schools is to see that only those with qualifications provide educational services. The rest is left to the market to decide.
By making the schools compete with one another for "customers," the schools that provide high-quality service prosper while those that don't naturally go out of business. This is much like a doctor who is unable to provide good service being forced to shut down his or her hospital because of a lack of clients. No interference from the government is necessary.
Which view of education do we take? We definitely take the latter view of education that can be provided by anyone with qualifications. The most obvious evidence is in the difference between universities.
Should education be regarded as a public service, there would not be much difference among universities － big disparities would be like letting the Seongbuk Fire Department become far superior to the Jongro Fire Department. Under a public service system, such a differentiation among public organs would not be allowed.
What about the reality? Our Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development administers the educational system with the view that education is a purely public service. It keeps itself busy drawing up all sorts of regulations and planning ways to interfere in the running of schools.
It decides the number of school days, the opening and closing of academic departments of universities and even the number of online university students. It is difficult to understand what logic and justification is being used for all this regulation.
Should the same logic be applied to the Ministry of Justice, law firms would get from the ministry a certain quota of clients per year, and the Ministry of Health and Welfare would give medical doctors a designated number of patients to go under their care.
The working hours of lawyers and doctors would also be decided by the government for them. If the government insists that education is a public service, so should be the law and medical services as well.
If education is viewed as a private service, the market should decide who provides what and how. In a market economy, the suppliers and consumers of education would all compete for a better quality of education.
The reason students from all over the world go to the United States for their education is because the market, not the government, is the most efficient arbiter of the quality of education.
This is the reason why some people are even going to the extreme of saying that the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development should be abolished for education reform to begin.
The writer is a professor of law at Sejong University.
by Lee Hong-kyu