[VIEWPOINT]Why We Need Independent High SchoolsThe government has announced detailed plans for the first 30 new independent high schools to open their doors next year. Tuition fees will be three times higher than at ordinary high schools; elective courses will predominate; more than 20 percent of operational costs of schools will come from funding foundations; more than 15 percent of students must receive scholarships; enrollment tests will be more diverse and licenses will be canceled if the schools begin to just "teach the test" for college admissions.
The move reignited the long-standing debate between opponents and proponents of the new educational policy. Those who are against the introduction of such new school argue that they will eventually turn into prep schools dominated by children from wealthy family that focus on sending as many students as possible to prestigious universities. So, they say, the new school system and its market principles are likely to aggravate inequality in education and widen the educational gap among social classes.
It is disappointing to see such an attitude adopted by the education office of the Seoul Metropolitan government. They risk throwing out the baby with the bath water, swayed by arguments for equality in education, turning a blind eye to demands from students and parents for diverse education for a knowledge-based society. Now is the time to refocus the roles and functions of public and private schools. The Seoul Metropolitan government needs to see clearly the social changes surrounding schools and the accompanying demand by the general public for more recognition of their educational rights. The Seoul city government must launch independent private schools that can take root while harmonizing with the existing public education system based on educational equality.
Most of the arguments over education these days are not about the fundamentals of education: they are about peripheral issues disguised as education.
We are living in a society where educational background is a determining factor for success, and the sentiment of the general public wields strong influence in drawing up policies. Therefore educational issues cannot be resolved by educators alone.
To raise a child, the cooperation and participation of the entire society is necessary. We must guarantee the educational rights of the next generation.
Our school system is in crisis. The basic classroom discipline necessary for teaching is not maintained in today's classrooms, and the authority of schools and teachers is challenged every day. And that is not all.
Students today do not want to be statistical grist in an educational mill. They want to be treated as individuals, but they are restricted by dull classroom instruction, and respond with apathy. This is the root of our school crisis.
The school system itself is too inflexible to move in directions that can improve the quality of education. We are living in a society where new types of private education are popping up everyday, including private tutoring through the Internet.
Trial and error in the field of education should be encouraged. When experiment and invention are tried, creative educational programs and new educational methods can be developed. The important thing is to establish a system that can manage the quality of education.
These new schools can compete with the existing system, and out of that competition will come better education. They should not even dream of raking in huge profits by just changing their names and gathering students from wealthy families; they should not focus only on teaching their students how to get good grades on the college entrance exam. We still remember the notoriety of some private schools. Society will monitor the selection and operations of independent private schools, with a close eye on whether or not they are helping our children grow.
The writer is a researcher at the Korea Educational Development Institute.
by Yang Seung-sil