[VIEWPOINT]Education has hidden faults

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[VIEWPOINT]Education has hidden faults

According to a report on current issues, “Global Growth Centers,” published on Aug. 1 by Deutsche Bank Research, the human capital of Korea was ranked sixth among 34 nations, which included the members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.
The report predicts that the increase in human capital would bolster rapid economic development in India, China, the South African Republic, Thailand and Spain by 2020. Korea and Spain were evaluated as success cases of investment in education. The report forecasts that if the trend continues, Korea will catch up with Germany and Japan by 2020 ― very inspiring news to Koreans indeed.
While the government, schools and civic groups are intensely arguing over the issue of education at home, it is noteworthy that there is a report that sees Korea as an exemplary case of a country that has successfully invested in education. I would like to share a few points that I saw while reading the report.
First, I would like to discuss the job of building the future of a nation. The approach of the Germans is so different from what Koreans are thinking. Koreans are caught by the problems of the past and unable to resolve the issues of today while the Germans are proposing what they need to do today for the future in 2020.
The report suggests the direction Germany should be heading in a global perspective by comparing and evaluating the relationship between economic development and the human capital of 34 countries, including the United States and China, that exert an enormous influence on the global economy.
While Germany currently has the best human capital and is expected to become second in 2020, the report warns the German government that the country could be overtaken by Korea within a few years if the current German educational system remains unchanged.
Second, there is a trap in the report that Koreans should not be happy about. Unlike the industrialized society of the past, lifetime learning and continuing education are important elements in today’s knowledge-based society. Therefore, the qualitative measure of human capital needs to include not just regular education but also lifetime learning.
The fact that Korea has the lowest lifetime learning of adults among the OECD members has not been reflected in the Deutsche Bank Research report. The report noted that 95 percent of young Koreans complete high school, while the rate of high school graduation in Germany is far lower than the OECD average of 60 percent. However, the students in developed European nations have to pass qualifying examinations to graduate from middle and high schools, and if they do not, they cannot receive a diploma.
Therefore, Germany’s high school graduation rate is different from Korea’s because those who failed the qualifying examination are not counted. In other words, the figure should be interpreted to say that Korea needs to make more efforts to maintain the quality of high school education.
The report estimates that at the individual level, one more year of education would translate to an income increase of as little as 5 percent and as much as 10 percent, and at the national level, a 10 percent rise in human capital leads to a 9 percent rise in GDP per capita.
However, the estimate should have recognized that there is a surplus of higher education. In the case of Korea, the structure of education is cylindrical. Because the number of high school graduates is smaller than the number of freshmen that colleges hope to accept, any high school graduate can pursue higher education if they want to.
However, companies are suffering from a shortage of workers with talents and skills, while college graduates have hard time finding jobs, because the structure of employment is pyramidal.
When analyzing the construction of higher education in Korea, the Deutsche Bank Research report praises Korean education without ever mentioning the surplus of higher education that produces a structural youth unemployment problem from the incongruity of the cylindrical educational structure and the pyramidal job market.
The report reckoned that qualitative growth was one of the elements of success as the number of higher educational institutions in Korea has grown from 290 in 1975 to 1,400 in 2003, and the number of students increased from 240,000 to 3.6 million. However, the report fails to address the situation that the government had to commence the restructuring of colleges and universities because of the surplus of higher education. Therefore, the report must not be exploited as grounds to block the Korean government from pursuing the structural reform of colleges and universities.

* The writer is the dean of the College of Education at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Kwon Dae-bong
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