[VIEWPOINT]Sowing, harvesting and teaching

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[VIEWPOINT]Sowing, harvesting and teaching

It may sound like gallows humor, but people joke that the flip side of an education policy that changes almost every day has contributed greatly to Korea’s competitiveness.
In this interpretation, the numerous education policies that have popped out of nowhere to be followed by an exclamation of “Just kidding!” have helped our students develop a keen sense of spontaneity.
And so the frequent educational reforms that periodically turn things around completely have helped our students become the best in the world at adapting to new situations.
Many people have shaken their heads in confusion over the efforts to change the system for promoting teachers to principals into a “public principal subscription system” even though education administrators already have a full plate of reforms to deal with. Some people also feel embarrassed about government authorities who suddenly surge to promote the establishment of “innovative public schools” that are lauded as being able to overpower foreign-language high schools. It’s a battle of turning things upside down.
As they watch the struggle between the Presidential Committee on Education Innovation and the Ministry of Education, and between the ministry and the Seoul education council, which almost resembles the grappling that goes on in a Korean-style wrestling match, people have started to wonder who’s in charge and for whose benefit policies are being made.
In connection with the new education policy, which defies common sense, some people in our society have suggested that education has been taken hostage by politics. They assert that the university admission system for the 2008 school year, which is based primarily on high-school grade transcripts, will be the watershed in the Uri Party’s education policy.
The party, they suggest, is rushing to introduce these “innovative public schools” to get around the problem that foreign-language high schools, respected for the education they provide, pose in enforcing a university admission system based on high school transcripts.
Although talking about the 2008 school year does not seem to have any political implications, the timing of the introduction of the new system will coincide with the 2007 presidential election campaign. Therefore, people suspect that the governing party is trying to introduce the system quickly to get political gains from it.
I don’t really believe that line of reasoning, but if there actually is a political reason for the education policy, we’ll have to see how the majority of teachers, students and parents react. There is no way of knowing what effect these unsatisfactory education policies of the “participatory government” had on the decision by voters in the May 31 local elections to reject the party, but I hope that the shocking and confusing education policy we have now will not be the No. 1 contributor to the party’s defeat in the presidential election next year.
If the government punishes foreign-language high schools for breaking with the reason they were established, what will it do about protests from religious schools that oppose the new private school law because they would lose control of teaching their students religious values? And how will it answer complaints about the duplicity of an education policy that allows the Songdo International School to accept Korean students that make up 30 percent of its enrollment while restricting the Korean foreign-language high schools? How is the Ministry of Education going to explain inconsistencies in claims that it is making policy for the people, but wants to suppress independent and foreign-language high schools to which Koreans increasingly want to send their children?
I have no intention to criticize or malign the true purpose of the “innovative public schools” that the government wants. But education reforms and policies must be consistent and prioritized so that the education environment is stable, teachers are satisfied with their jobs and children enjoy their school life. The government must give parents a way to choose a school they can afford, and it must set policies that support students who are academically capable but cannot afford to go to the school they wish to attend. It is right to support students from lower income groups, but it does not seem right to restrict, on the pretext of equity, the educational rights of students and parents who are looking for a better education with their own money .
Education administrators obviously know that seeds should be planted in the spring and crops harvested in the fall. But they are determined to plant seeds when they should be harvesting, and there is public unrest abroad in the land.
The government must now put the finishing touches on its various education policies. It is not the time to continuously introduce policies. I just hope it will not make the mistake of confusing harvest time with sowing season.

* The writer is a professor of education at Konkuk University and the principal of Konkuk University High School.


by Oh Sung-sam
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