[VIEWPOINT]Ministry must listen on educationRecently, the Ministry of Education and Human Resources announced a revision about the general educational curriculum. I have participated in the development and review of the curriculum before, so I understand how difficult the challenge can be. In the past, interested parties have been pitted against one another depending on what they had to gain. When they failed to reach agreement, the Ministry of Education used its power before making a revision public and announced a curriculum that did not reflect the specialists’ opinions.
However, Korean society has matured considerably over the past decade, so I had hoped that the educational authorities would not repeat that mistake. However, the latest revision only reminded me that the curriculum is determined by the people in power ― not by the consensus of the opinions of concerned parties and the educational specialists through a democratic process.
This time, the authorities stressed over and over that the revision was going to be limited.
However, the contents of the revision are all-encompassing, similar to curriculum revisions of the past. If the curriculum were to be modified so drastically, the authorities should have set a general outline first and then revised the details. When they have no idea about how many hours each subject is assigned, how many hours each grade is assigned and which subjects are to be integrated, how can they discuss the details?
What have they been discussing for the last two years?
The adjustment in the number of hours clearly reveals the power dynamics in the process. A former minister of education long ago announced that history education would be reinforced by establishing history as a separate subject and increasing the hours it is taught.
Once such an announcement was made, there would be no room for discussion. Why would those involved in the concerned subject negotiate when the curriculum is supposed to be revised in their favor? When the minister of science and technology and the minister of education agreed to reinforce science and technology education, 10th grade science was expanded from three hours to four hours a week, and the elective subject group of mathematics, science, technology and home economics was divided into two groups, one with science and mathematics and the other with technology and home economics. I never heard there was a discussion among experts. Does it mean that if the minister of finance and economy asks, then economics can become an independent subject?
An educational curriculum surely is a product of the times and society. It is only natural that it appropriately reflects the circumstances of the moment. However, the academic and educational aspects must not be ignored. Will separating the history subject and increasing its hours resolve the Dokdo Islets dispute or China’s Northeast Project? The current hours are enough to teach students the correct historical view. What has been addressed as a problem is that history has been taught by people who did not major in history. In the case of social studies, the assigned 15 hours can be divided equally among history, geography and general social affairs, and teachers should be selected accordingly. By teaching a certain area in each grade, a teacher can give lessons in his field of specialty.
When high school science is integrated into one, then four areas ― physics, chemistry, biology and Earth science ― are included equally and two elective classes are opened for each area. If science is taught one more hour, four hours a week, teachers who majored in each subject can teach their specialty. However, the problem remains that students have an added burden of taking different subjects. The subject groups of electives should not be modified imprudently. Students need to take at least one subject from each group, and by increasing the number of the groups, students are required to take more elective courses. Therefore, students are bound to be limited in choosing subjects to maximize their capacities.
The educational curriculum is a nationally crucial matter that will determine the future of the country. If the curriculum revision goes wrong, parents’ ardent desire to educate their children better and help them lead happier lives would come to nothing.
That is why parents must closely watch the process of curriculum revision.
*The writer is a professor of geography education at Seowon University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Song Ho-yul