[OUTLOOK]Drop the education hypocrisy

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[OUTLOOK]Drop the education hypocrisy

The other day I was talking on the phone with one of my friends who is a teacher at a private education institute in southern Seoul. He used to be a student activist but now works in the field of “private tutoring” in the affluent area, while the public education system has gone downhill.
I wondered what he thinks about our education system. I asked him what he thought the problem with it is. He hesitated for a while, and then answered, “In one word, it’s hypocrisy. The double standards of parents, the country and this administration are the problem.”
Sounding depressed, he added, “When the government twists the university entrance system, stressing the egalitarianism-oriented education system, the private education markets in southern Seoul benefit the most. Now it’s next to impossible for kids from poor families to go to university. I feel terrible and I feel sorry for them.”
I felt terrible and helpless as well, being reminded of an incident I had recently.
One month ago, I took my son to a private English institute. He lived in the United States and went to a school there while I worked as a correspondent. He is familiar with English, but I wanted him to remember what he has learned.
However, the institute was far more serious than I thought. Most of the teachers were Westerners. He took a test to determine his class level. Listening to the stories of parents in the waiting room, I realized most of the children who took a class there had been abroad to learn English.
A staff member there said, “We take only a small number of students in one class and teach them according to their competence. If a kid skips a class three times for no reason and without notice, the kid is automatically expelled.” He sounded much more confident than any regular school teacher.
I felt heartbroken. It was not only because of the high fees. It was because I thought, if a child is born from a poor family, just like I was, it would be really hard to go to university. I felt sympathetic with the countless other people like me whom I don’t even know.
Two Former education ministers, Kim Jin-pyo and Kim Byong-joon, sent their children to foreign-language high schools. When a child is talented and wants to go a foreign language school, what kind of parents would say no?
After their children graduated from high schools, the two former ministers criticized “foreign language high schools, which accelerate competition to an undesirable level and breaks egalitarianism.” That was hypocritical.
Months ago, I interviewed the head of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union. The outline of her argument was that competition is bad because it is intended to suppress others. She probably thinks so because she doesn’t have any children.
But I want to ask other teachers in the union who have children: “If your child wanted to go to a language high school or science and technology high school, would you tell them not to because such schools worsen competition?”
I want to ask one more thing: “Let’s say you had two options ― a competent teacher and an incompetent teacher. Would you tell your child to learn from an incompetent teacher for the sake of egalitarianism?” Probably not.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration and the ruling Uri Party stress egalitarianism in education. If they mean what they say, the Uri Party members and civil workers should be the first ones to send their children to regular schools.
However, they say things like, “We work for the egalitarianism-oriented education system and design measures for it,” while sending their children abroad or to special high schools. That is hypocritical.
Many countries, including the United States, Japan and those in Europe, have begun to reform their education systems because education is very important in the 21st century, when knowledge and information are the key factors to survival.
The question is, “What enhances competitiveness?”
Guus Hiddink, who was the coach for the Korean national football team in 2002, told his squad, “Don’t be afraid of competition. Enjoy it.” Nobody would deny that Korean soccer developed a great deal after players were no longer afraid of competition.
Let’s drop the hypocrisy. Let’s drop the double standard of saying “Competition is bad,” while doing everything behind the scenes to win the education battle. Let’s drop the hypocrisy of saying “Competition is bad,” while treating the losers of competitions very badly.
Let’s admit what’s good. Instead, let’s teach our children to reach out their hands toward people who have lost in the competition. That is education in the truest sense.

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

by Kim Chong-hyuk
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