[VIEWPOINT]Preparing students for tomorrowThe world is becoming one. Countries are still divided by political ideologies, but economies, societies and cultures are already merging into one big flow. This means we can no longer live alone in the world. Our descendants will live in an even more open society in the future.
The only way for them to take their place in the world is to receive an education that will give them a competitive edge in this era of internationalization and globalization. Now, we must see education as being one in this world as well. No longer is the opening of the education market an issue of debate. It has become a reality we cannot avoid.
We invest as much money in education as advanced countries do, but we invest in a very ineffective way. Apart from public education fees, households spend 10 trillion won ($8.7 billion) on private education fees, and an estimated 5.5 trillion won is spent on sending students from the elementary through the high school level to study abroad.
It is a common view, both here and abroad, that despite this enormous expenditure, Koreans are still unable to prepare students to be competitive in international society. The excessive spending on private education only provides a little help on the college entrance exam, and students’ frequent change of private institutions makes it nearly impossible for them to receive proper education. Also, 60 percent of the students who go abroad to study return halfway through their studies, meaning that some 3 trillion won are wasted in this category.
It would be more pragmatic to raise the international competitiveness of our education rather than try to restrict the number of students studying abroad. In the special economic zones, more foreigners’ schools must be established which Koreans can attend to receive the level of education they could find abroad.
How are other countries adapting to opening their education markets? Until now, we have only had advanced countries as role models. But last month, China allowed foreign capital to establish schools in cooperation with Chinese capital. This was not because of pressure from the World Trade Organization but because China felt that it was in its national interest to open its education market. Also, there are special education zones all around the country where foreign capital is allowed to establish schools and the restrictions are looser.
Let’s also consider the case of Thailand. There are more than 40 international schools in Bangkok which natives can also attend. Most of these schools are run by profit-making corportions. In addition, both natives and foreigners can establish schools.
What about our policies on opening our education market? The education schedule we submitted to the World Trade Organization leaves little room for foreign capital to establish schools in Korea. Foreign capital can only be invested in non-profit institutions above the college level and there are tricky restrictions on monetary transactions. Domestic laws prohibit foreign investors from participating in schools within the capital area and the requirements for establishing colleges are very strict.
Therefore our opening of the education market is in name only. The only exception is international schools in special economic zones, but the Education Ministry is already trying to restrict applicants to residents of the special zones. Such an opening of the education market is bound to fail.
We can’t put off opening our education market any longer. One of the most tragic things that has happened in our modern history was the experience of “comfort women,” or forced sex slaves, during the Japanese occupation. These women suffered not through any fault of their own, but because their fathers and grandfathers lost their country. This historical lesson still pertains to us today. If we don’t educate our descendants to live boldly in the world today, they will again experience heartbreaking tragedies.
* The writer is a professor of physics at Myongji University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Young-ho