[VIEWPOINT]End the education monopolyThe Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology is welcoming its first foreign president. There are many examples of foreigners contributing to education in Korea. Foreign missionaries established Yonsei University and Ehwa Hakdang, the predecessor of today’s Ehwa Womans University.
Founded by foreign Catholic priests in the 1960s, Sogang University became one of the most prestigious colleges in the country after a decade. Its rapid development was due to its strict academic system. At the time, it was often the case in other universities that professors shortened their lectures at their own discretion. But Sogang University required professors to begin and end classes on time. At the same time, Sogang University offered exceptional compensation to its faculty.
A former Seoul National University professor who joined Sogang in its early years recalled that he could buy one sack of rice with a month’s salary from his old school, but his new wages bought him three sacks. Sogang’s incentive system helped to prevent moral hazard and nurtured a diligent teaching staff.
But Sogang’s example is a rare one in Korean education. Most schools have failed to establish distinctive characteristics, and public and private schools offer similar curriculums. The equalization is especially true in elementary and secondary education. Students are trapped in stereotypical curriculums and undistinguished lectures, and teachers cannot expect incentives and rewards for their contribution and efforts.
The emphasis on standardization ended up creating an uninspiring learning ground. The more government emphasizes the quality of public education, the more parents seek private lessons for their children. Some even make costly decisions to send their young children abroad to study.
What ruined public education? Basically, the government ignored the choice of the consumers and the power of incentives and monopolized the supply. The government’s monopoly made everyone a victim, from the students and their parents, who were deprived of the freedom to make choices, to the schools and teachers, who lost the incentives to improve the quality of education because of various strict regulations. Because of standardization, schools are deprived of the right to select students.
Although teachers try hard to create a better educational environment, there is no reward for them. Therefore, the academic talents do not pursue careers in education, and able teachers leave schools for other careers.
The morst dangerous evil of the state-monopolized education system is that young students learn to accept a curriculum devised for a certain purpose without discrimination. In the past, the authoritarian government tended to exploit their easy access to youth. Today, the Korea Teachers and Educational Workers Union and other civic groups exercise a mighty influence on students through anti-war classes. Regardless of the times, it is the people who suffer.
In order to survive and remain a healthy nation in the 21st century, we need to nurture our youth into able adults who keep pace with the times. The 21st century demands creative and self-learning minds, and they can only be nurtured in a liberal and discriminatory environment. The current monotonous education system monopolized by the government has no caliber to produce the talents of the 21st century. This is why we have no choice but to reform the system.
Most of all, the government should return autonomy to private schools. At least, private high schools and colleges should have the right to choose students and determine tuition. Champions of a standardized education insist that a discriminatory education system will ruin the humanity of the students.
But in my time, we had to take entrance exams to get into middle school, high school and college, and there is no evidence that the older generation lacks humanity more than those educated under the standardized system.
The government should also allow foreign institutions to open branches in the country to let the citizens have the right to choose a more globalized education. Opponents are worried that the establishment of “aristocratic schools” will bring social antipathy and the downfall of Korean schools.
But the existence of a few aristocratic institutions will be more of a stimulus, than a threat. In the precedents in other fields, haven’t we already seen that Koreans thrive in an open environment?
It is time for the government to give back the right to choose to the public. It is the only solution for all to survive.
* The writer is a professor of economics at Sogang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Nam Sung-il