[OUTLOOK]Jobs, housing and educationLet’s call him Mr. Ahn. He’s an executive at an SK Group affiliate and lives in a leased apartment in Sangil-dong in eastern Seoul. He owns a house in Mok-dong in western Seoul, but moved to his current place two years ago because his older son goes to Hanyoung Foreign Language High School, an elite high school in Sangil-dong. For one year, when his son was a freshman, he lived in Mok-dong and drove his son to and from school. His second son went to a junior high school in Mok-dong, so he could not move to the neighborhood of the first son’s high school.
Several junior high schools in Mok-dong produce more students who get into elite high schools than almost any others in the country. There are famous private institutes for junior high school students in this neighborhood as well. But Mr. Ahn did not want to make his older son travel a long way to school because of the amount of time he spends studying. It takes 30 to 40 minutes by car even when traffic is light, because Mok-dong and Sang-il-dong are on opposite sides of Seoul. He made a decision; he sent the second son abroad and moved next to the older son’s high school.
Meanwhile, a Mr. Ban is a professor at a university in Cheonan, a city south of Seoul. After his son was admitted to Hanyoung Foreign Language High School, he got a leased apartment close to the school and moved his son and wife there. The family lived in two separate apartments for about a year. He then sold his house in Cheonan and got an apartment in Gaepo-dong, southern Seoul, to reunite his family. He chose that neighborhood because it is not far from Sangil-dong and was in one of the top eight school districts.
A friend of mine lives in a leased apartment in Daechi-dong, southern Seoul. Even though the key money for a lease is enormous in that neighborhood, he decided to live there because there are many private institutes with good reputations there.
Education for children was the primary factor that these three people took into account when choosing where to live. As seen in these stories, housing and the school entrance system have a deep correlation. But none of the eight major real estate policies released last year took education into account. That is understandable, because our school entrance system is so tangled that it is hard to know where to begin to untie the knots. The system has been changed whenever a new minister enters office, so the system has become even more complicated.
Accordingly, private institutes thrive. There are even some private institutes specializing in finding out which schools students should apply to based on their performance at school and on tests. Parents cannot guide their children on their own, so they become more dependent on private schools. As a result, an increasing number of parents want to live in neighborhoods with many popular private institutes.
The education system is also directly related to job issues. On Jan. 1 alone, nearly 7,000 applications were put on major Internet portals for job seekers. Those applicants must have felt so disappointed that they hadn’t found jobs yet that they surfed the Internet to apply for jobs on the first day of the year, when others had a day off.
As it becomes increasingly hard to get a job, it is natural that students struggle to get into elite universities and majors that are popular because they are useful in finding jobs.
Each year the administration sets job creation as its most important goal in economic policy, but it has never met its target ― not even once.
As housing prices surge, the government imposed heavy taxes on homeowners. It also declared a war on speculation. Recently, the real estate market has become a little more calm, probably because of such measures. Some even worry about worse effects; plummeting housing prices could lead to a bad consumer economy because household loans using houses as collateral would become more difficult to repay. But anxiety that housing prices might jump at any moment never disappears. That’s because there are many factors that contributed to surging housing prices, but those factors have not been eliminated or addressed thoroughly.
I would like to present an alternative; the government lifts regulations on businesses and boosts their morale in order for companies to feel secure in investing. Companies expand their business, which leads to an increase in jobs. People can get decent jobs even without fancy educational backgrounds. People will no longer sacrifice everything only to get into elite schools or to send their children to such schools. A bizarre phenomenon such as the flight to the eight best school districts disappears. The term “bubble seven,” indicating the seven areas where housing prices surged more than most, will no longer be used. Is it impossible to create such a virtuous circle?
*The writer is the head of the business desk of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Min Byong-kwan