[NOTEBOOK]A chance to renew the schools

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[NOTEBOOK]A chance to renew the schools

Many people are despairing of Korean public education. The procession of parents sending their young children to the United States, Canada and New Zealand is getting longer. Will Korea’s educational system indeed sink like this? Fortunately, there are signs of hope.
Lately, many talented students have been entering college and university programs that train them to become teachers. The teaching profession is attractive not only because it is a way to work toward the future, but because the job stability and leisure time that it offers are more highly valued these days. Apparently satisfied with their choice, those in these programs are said to be better students than most. At the same time, the fever for education among Korean parents, who will sacrifice anything for their children’s schooling, is only heating up further. And so both consumer demand and the quality of the supply in Korean education are at their peak. This is a green light for the future of Korean education.
What should be done now is to create a system in which the stunted public education market runs smoothly. Inferior providers should be dismissed forthwith, and superior providers should be given the opportunity to display their abilities, provide a quality service and receive the proper rewards in the market.
For this to happen, a clear distinction should be made between the high-quality providers of education, who are viewed favorably by consumers, and the low-quality providers who should be dismissed. The present situation ―in which the efforts of real teachers are overshadowed by the inept or unqualified ones, as if bad money were driving out the good ―should not be allowed to continue.
That is why a full-scale teacher evaluation system should be introduced.
The evaluation system that the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development plans to adopt is designed to use comprehensive evaluations by principals, vice principals, peer teachers, parents and students as material for developing each individual teacher’s ability. The system is designed to overcome the limitations of the existing work performance evaluation system, which was created mainly for purposes of personnel management.
With this reasoning in mind, a teaching policy evaluation group from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development suggested last year that Korea adopt a teacher evaluation system. In the OECD’s view, while Korean teachers are capable when they enter the profession, there is no system for helping them improve over the course of their careers.
But because of resistance from teachers’ unions, including the Korean Federation of Teachers Associations (KFTA) and the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union (KTU), the teacher evaluation system has not made any progress.
Members of KTU made a scene at a public hearing on the teacher evaluation system last month, seizing the speakers podium. Both unions collected signatures in opposition to the system from 250,000 of Korea’s 400,000 teachers. The Ministry of Education says it will launch the system on a trial basis on Sept. 1, but few believe this.
It is not a pleasant thing to have one’s performance evaluated by others. Even KTU, which has actively supported educational reform, is concerned that the evaluation system could change the structure of the teaching community through competition. But when one considers that government officials and employees of private businesses have to undergo evaluations, it seems unreasonable to argue that teachers should be specially exempted.
Unionized teachers need to change their way of thinking. They should embrace this new system, taking it as an opportunity to change the nature of public education. Reviving a “patient” in such critical condition will require open minds. Whatever criticisms others may make, teachers should help the government drop the present, unjust system and allow enthusiastic teachers and willing parents to have healthy transactions. If teachers don’t have the rationality to see this, they may lose the basis for the people’s trust in them.
It is also time for the government to show some firmness. The present evaluation system has no mechanism for dismissing unqualified teachers at parents’ urging, as exists in the United States and Japan. The government should not be dictated to by unions that refuse to accept even this rudimentary measure. More than 70 percent of the people support the new system. The government should not miss this rare chance to revive public education with the help of students, parents and enthusiastic teachers.

* The writer is a city news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Ha-kyung
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