[VIEWPOINT]Hoping for a hero in education

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[VIEWPOINT]Hoping for a hero in education

Upon returning home from Washington after three years there as a correspondent, the most surprising thing I encountered in Seoul was not the Cheonggye stream that replaced the grotesque cement structure that had covered the area and again let a stream run through the center of the city, but skyrocketing apartment prices.
I was dumbfounded at the price of apartments, reaching values of more than 1 billion won ($1 million) or 2 billion won easily.
As one who does not live in Gangnam, or south of the Han River, I also feel a bit of jealousy toward those with homes in the area.
Before I departed for Washington in 2003, a senior journalist gave me the advice: “Hey, listen to me. Even if you need a bank loan, you’d better buy a bigger apartment in Gangnam before your departure.”
I should have followed his advice. But at the time I retorted, “No, I don’t think so.
I know President Roh Moo-hyun a little bit, because I reported on him as a journalist when he was a presidential candidate. He will certainly get the soaring apartment prices under control when he assumes power.”
In retrospect, I feel ashamed of my comment.
Returning home, I have met many colleagues on the newspaper, former classmates and so on.
The topic of the day has been, without exception, the soaring price of apartments.
It is painful to hear young journalists talking enviously about the price of an apartment their acquaintance owns in Gangnam.
Conclusively, the real estate policy of the Roh Moo-hyun administration is a failure.
In my 20-year career as a journalist, I have never seen scenes like those we see nowadays: Whenever people gather together, regardless of whether they are rich or poor, men or women, learned or uneducated, new recruits or executives, the only thing they are interested is the price of apartments.
Even if the price of apartments eventually goes down, Mr. Roh’s housing policy is still a failure if we consider the economic confusion that would come after a total collapse of apartment prices.
I once heard a person in the ruling party and who belongs to the so-called 386 generation, those in their 30s who were born in the 1960s and studied in the 1980s, complain, “The public are selfish and nothing but snobs.”
To his complaint, I would like to shout, “A policy that does not take into account human snobbery is only an armchair theory, stupid!”
Kim Byung-joon, the former Blue House policy chief who commanded the real estate policy of the Roh administration, is going to be the deputy prime minister of education and human resources development. It is quite a dubious and bold appointment.
For what reason did President Roh appoint Mr. Kim to the post of no other than the minister of education, one shrouded with rumors and trouble.
Is their any reasonable relevance to Mr. Kim’s appointment? The options are:
1) Mr. Roh considers that Mr. Kim’s real estate policy has succeeded and believes that he will succeed in education, too.
2) Although the real estate policy is a failure, Mr Roh thinks that Mr. Kim will succeed in education.
3) Regardless of success or failure, Mr. Roh needs a person who can overturn education completely.
4) Mr. Roh, as a person, is obliged to provide a prestigious post to Mr. Kim.
Which is the correct answer? It seems this is not an appointment to be understood with commonsense.
The future course of the deputy prime minister of education, who is known as Mr. Roh’s man, will most probably be to either push forward a policy strongly with the backing of Mr. Roh, or, contrary to expectations, to stay mute so he can erase his negative image.
I would like to give some candid advice to Mr. Kim, whom I have never met.
As a parent with children, I sincerely hope that the education policy will succeed whoever becomes education minister.
Mr. Kim must have witnessed how important the competitiveness of a nation is while he helped President Roh manage state affairs.
Mr. Kim must understand the reason why people send their children to the United States, Australia, New Zealand and even the Philippines, and live like lone geese, the father at home for work and the mother and children abroad for the children’s study.
I would like to ask Mr. Kim to fight against those who try to restrain the competitiveness of our education and who go against the times, whether they are members of the Korea Teachers and Educational Workers Union or the 386 generation activists close to President Roh.
Because, although this is paradoxical, it is possible only by someone like him who has the confidence of the president.
It will never be easy. Such a minister could be sacked immediately after being hit by a concentrated attack within the government and the governing party.
But the public will applaud him loudly, a lone fighter in government, and will remember him as the one who provided a foothold to the competitiveness of our education.
Are there any who believe that education in Korea is without problems, other than members of the Korea Teachers and Education Workers Union, a small number of idealists and a few others who claim they share the same code as the president?

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

by Kim Chong-hyuk
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