[VIEWPOINT]A false religion in the schools

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[VIEWPOINT]A false religion in the schools

Korea achieved modernization in just three decades, something that took Western countries two centuries and Japan a century. The driving force for accomplishing high economic growth and laying the foundation for democracy on this land, with its scarce natural resources and dearth of accumulated technology, was education. We created the miracle on the Han River by educating our talented people. But now, some are concerned that the country built on education is being ruined by it.
Among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to a recent report, South Korean has the highest level of distrust and discontent regarding public education, the lowest capacity for group study, the highest expenditures on private education and the largest number of immigrants for purposes of early childhood education. Our country faces a serious educational crisis, marked by the collapse of public education, the proliferation of private, after-school institutes and an exodus of people seeking better education elsewhere.
The fundamental cause is egalitarianism and the monopoly of education by the state. Leftist teachers unions and misguided educational activists are aggravating the situation. The government has given lip service to autonomy in education, but control over education policy has been the norm.
The college entrance examination system is a good example. The government says colleges have complete autonomy, except that they are not allowed to hold their own entrance exams, rank high schools or admit students based on financial contributions. This is like saying that you can order anything you like in a Korean restaurant except steamed rice, kimchi or bean paste soup. “Autonomy” that doesn’t allow freedom in the most basic, essential matters is not true autonomy.
Egalitarianism, which defines competition as injustice, leads to opportunism. Prior to the standardization of the educational system, Korean teachers were passionate about their work. After standardization, they became negligent and powerless. It is not surprising that the axis of Korean education is now to be found in private institutes, not the public schools.
The standardization policy is a system that pushes students into unfettered competition, while making teachers complacent by taking them out of the realm of competition altogether. In three decades of high school standardization, the schools have begun to crack and collapse. Standardization is the root cause of this. This policy designed for the common people is killing them. Ironically, it is becoming one that benefits the rich, who determine their children’s fate by, as the saying goes, “the father’s wealth and the mother’s information.”
We should build a knowledge-based, globalized society for the 21st century by way of educational reform based on classical liberalism. Liberalistic educational reform is now at its height around the world, including the United States. The essential goals of educational reform lie in improving students’ academic ability and enhancing their international competitiveness. Even China is carrying out liberalistic educational reform, under the banner of “national prosperity through the promotion of science and technology.” Germany and France, which once advocated educational egalitarianism, have introduced the principles of competition, and Japan has given up its “leisurely education.”
We should free ourselves from the pseudo-religion that is standardization. If things continue as they are, we may find ourselves becoming a banana republic, with even deeper social divisions and an inability to compete in the world.
Students should be given back the right to choose their schools, and colleges the right to choose their students. The autonomy of private schools should be guaranteed, and information on education should be made public. Through a national system of evaluating their academic achievements, schools should be encouraged to compete, and should be made accountable for their performances.
The goal of liberalistic education should be clear: to create citizens with an accurate perspective on their country and its competitiveness in the world, people who can solve problems rationally and contribute to a democracy. We should cultivate in our children a faith in liberal democracy, free markets, and personal freedom and individuality.
We should protect our children from ideologically blinded teachers who cannot even distinguish the enemy from the ally.
What gives us strength is not our racial identity, but our country. We were persecuted under Japanese rule because we didn’t have a country, not because there was no Korean people. We should teach our children that the United States reigns over the world today not because of racial strength, but because of the strength of the country.

* The writer is a proponent of the Confederation of Liberalistic Education Movement and a former principal of Gujeong High School in Seoul. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Jin-sung
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