[VIEWPOINT]We must computerize educationThe lingering dispute about the proposed National Education Information System (NEIS) is generating social strife with no prospect of an end. The failure to devise a clearly-defined solution and poor implementation of the policy will add to confusion in the classroom while escalating tensions.
With only weeks remaining until this year’s early college entrance examination, most teachers nationwide seem to have few clues about whether to prepare application materials using the NEIS format or the existing system. Rather than dwelling on bitter arguments about the new system, I have a few ideas about what should be done next.
First of all, the NEIS appears to have no technical flaws; its workability has been verified by highly qualified specialists, including those at the National Computerization Agency. The information entered into the NEIS is encrypted before it is stored, thereby all but eliminating access to personal files by hackers. The level of security technology behind the NEIS is superior to that of ordinary personal computer networks and the existing education information system, providing a measure of safety on par with Internet banking. So the distress over possible leakage of personal information is a question of how security is managed in a social policy sense.
For instance, the intentional or unethical misuse of security codes by an incompetent and substandard system manager could render a foolproof system useless. A transparent security management system could go a long way to eliminate the likelihood of fraud and tampering. To make security even better, participation and oversight by education organizations like the Korea Teachers and Educational Workers Union might be a good idea.
Secondly, existing information systems are increasingly being overtaken by new Internet software technology. The NEIS, a byproduct of such advanced technology, is also more economically efficient. To give up those advantages and return to the outdated current system would be inconceivable. The current system is prone to security problems and it would take a massive amount of work to fix it. If some schools stayed with the current system and others used the NEIS, the problem would be worse.
Therefore, all schools nationwide should agree to use the same system. Most schools have already made the transition to the NEIS, so it would be more feasible to conduct ordinary school affairs and college entrance examination tasks using the new system.
Finally, the revision and improvement of the NEIS should be a long-term task. Those efforts should be spearheaded and verified by qualified specialists, who in turn must base their decisions on reliable facts and data. Like the construction of a skyscraper, massive information projects require extensive planning, complicated engineering and the coordination of numerous parts and subdivisions. A hasty project will lead to a flimsy outcome and an unplanned approach will mean gross inefficiency and cost. Unless the task is fully thought through, a complete collapse of the system could occur. Despite the urgency of building a national education information system, bad implementation by unqualified hands will only lead to greater chaos.
Minimizing the input of sensitive data and increasing the transparency of system management could resolve the basis of the dispute, the protection of personal information. Improving the administration of educational affairs is key to becoming an advanced information society. If we look at the issue in the context of modernizing the administration of education, we can find solutions to the controversy easily. Incorporating the voices from the classrooms and minimizing overlapping efforts would be meaningful first steps. The greater problem is not technical; it is the process of consensus-building.
The information age will never come without individual patience and tolerance. Mutual trust and an open heart can help us succeed.
* The writer is a professor of computer science at Seoul National University.
by Kim Hyoung-joo