[VIEWPOINT]Where's an education president?With the presidential elections just two months away, we do not know yet who exactly will be running for the presidency. So policy competition is missing from the campaign and voters are growing increasingly cynical about politicians. Presidential hopefuls will issue a barrage of election pledges at the last hour to win votes, but it will be difficult for voters to notice the differences among contenders. Consequently, money and connections will prevail, and voters will make their choice not on the basis of their logical judgment of the candidates and their promises but on mere feelings. Approval ratings of likely candidates are fluctuating wildly because they have not presented any clear agenda that people can support or reject.
But Koreans are focused on two things: the economy and education. What I do not understand is why potential candidates fail to touch on the issues with concrete words; they simply repeat abstract thoughts like competitiveness and equality. For the economy, it is more important for a presidential bidder to have around him aides with ability and the courage to give him outspoken advice than to be an expert himself. In our reality, however, loyal but inept persons or able and spineless ones are attempting to enter politics.
What about education, then? Korea's education is too messy to be fixed by a few good brains. A candidate has to show something himself. Honestly, my family and I would never hesitate to vote for a candidate if we were sure that he could solve the education problems during the five years of his presidency. In fact, we would support him if he could only assure us that things would not be worse in five years than they are now.
We cannot let our broken education system lead to the failure of this country. To become a prosperous country, there must be a balance between economic growth and distribution. The education system of the past met that goal. A great number of high school-educated workers could meet the demand for the labor force necessary for industrialization. Hard-working students could enter universities without having to spend money on private tutoring and could get first-rate jobs after graduation. Education redistributed wealth by allowing educated people to climb the social ladder.
Today many college graduates find their degrees worthless. The world needs creativity, but our education is becoming even more standardized. Businesses have no reason to hire people who learned how to take tests at cram schools and then spent four more years learning useless theories. And those cram schools are expensive, so the rich have a leg up in getting into good schools. Now, education blocks both growth and distribution. Valu-able resources are being diverted to wildly profitable cram schools, and so it is fair to say that our distorted education system is damaging the economy.
Since my oldest child entered high school, we have been pouring a considerable portion of my income and my wife's into his education, and spending most of our time after work in making sure that he does well in school. A bigger problem for me is that I have no idea how to prepare my son for the university entrance exam. In the past, students were required to study hard before sending applications to a university that they were qualified to attend. Now, the university entrance system has become very complicated, requiring students to pick a school first before studying. The system changes every year, so I am afraid of letting my son have another try should he fail the first time.
The current education system offers only a narrow range of choices to education consumers at a high cost and with a low quality standard. It must be overhauled, but not piecemeal or haphazardly. No matter how good the education system is, too frequent changes would make it ineffective, and it would be useless if people did not accept it. Korea's education is riddled with too many problems for a handful of brains to fix them all.
How wonderful if a candidate vowed never to change the education system during his tenure in the Blue House but pledged to make a draft reform proposal after a thorough study during his first three years, before presenting the public with convincing alternatives to the present mess.
The writer is a professor of economics at Ewha Womans University.
by Chun Chu-song