[Viewpoint]‘Three Nos’ for education officialsAn Education Ministry official I met a few days ago said, “The costs of tutoring my high-school aged son is killing me. It is over 2 million won [$2,130] a month.” Once upon a time, he, along with other ministry officials, insisted that “There is no need for private tutoring as long as students study hard at school and watch the Educational Broadcasting Station’s programs devoted to preparation for the College Scholastic Ability Test.” He confessed, however, that he could not resist sending his son to a cram school when he became a high school senior because he did not feel sure about his son’s future.
Another government official said angrily, “The ‘death triangle’ university entrance system that require students to get good marks not only in their high school classes, but also on the College Scholastic Ability Test and on an essay test is putting students through hell.”
In this way, civil servants at the Education Ministry get a dose of reality when their children finally face the university entrance examination.
They fully understand how unreasonable the present university enrollment system is, and they also oppose it.
Nevertheless, the ministry still churns out armchair theories that ignore reality. Why does it do so, despite the fact that its officials also have children and suffer under the heavy burden of private education fees? There is a hint to the answer. In August last year, President Roh Moo-hyun visited the Education Ministry and praised it very highly. Mr. Roh said, “The Education Ministry is doing very well. At primary and secondary schools, creative education and healthy civic education are firmly taking root.”
From the perspectives of parents and ordinary citizens, however, the president’s remark sounds rather awkward. Many raised their eyebrows, asking, “Has the Education Ministry really been doing well?”
Now we clearly understand why the ministry ignores the reality of our educational system. The ministry does so in order to please the president. Whoever becomes the education minister, he makes remarks completely opposite to the assertions he made in the past. That used to be strange, but not anymore.
Kim Shin-il, the deputy prime minister for education, recently said, “The spending on private education for high-income brackets has skyrocketed, but that of the middle and low-income brackets is showing a trend of decline owing to the extracurricular classes run by public schools.”
His analysis could be correct, because the number of households that gave up sending their children to cram schools due to soaring fees is increasing. The minister even further bolstered his accomplishments by presenting data that show a monthly spending decrease of 10,000 won ($10) on private education. He should first have produced an analysis that shows how devastated the nation’s public education is before bragging about his self-proclaimed accomplishments.
The ministry makes unreasonable complaints, too. When some university authorities announced plans to increase the weight of the College Scholastic Ability Test in entrance criteria, the ministry criticized them harshly, saying, “They are stabbing the ministry in the back.”
The ministry has been boasting that the university entrance examination this year will be a success, and it has forced university presidents to increase the weight of the College Scholastic Ability Test to 50 percent of the entrance criteria. However, some universities turned a deaf ear to the ministry.
If consumers don’t buy a commodity, it is because the product has problems. It is this basic. But the ministry tries hard to force unwanted food into the mouths of consumers -- universities and students. And then the ministry scolds them loudly, saying, “Why don’t you eat this gourmet food?”
The problem with the Education Ministry officials is that they don’t see the reality of the situation until they become parents of students applying for university admissions. Some people call this the Education Ministry’s “Three Nos.”
The ministry’s “Three Nos” should be not flattering the president, not ignoring reality and not being stubborn.
Until these practices stop at the ministry, it will be hard to abolish the real “Three Nos” that guide university admissions ― no independent entrance examinations by universities, no ranking of high schools and no donations for admission.
*The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yang Young-yu