[Viewpoint]Education is not one size fits all

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[Viewpoint]Education is not one size fits all

Let’s say a smart Korean child lives in the United States. This child takes an intelligence test at second grade in elementary school. If he gets high scores, his teacher calls the child’s parents. The teacher suggests that since the student is very bright it will be good to send him to a gifted and talented school. Parents hesitate because the school is too far away. The teacher then offers plan B ― the child can study in a gifted and talented class inside the school.
It doesn’t need to be a gifted and talented school. The kid can go to a regular junior high and a high school in his neighborhood. Schools offer different levels of classes, such as honors classes and Advanced Placement, so that the student can choose the level that is best for him.
What is the college entrance system in the United States like? Each university looks at applicants’ scores in each subject. Let’s say a student took advanced classes for English and history and aced them, but chose a regular-level math class and received a C. If the student wants to major in the history of literature, most schools would still admit him despite the math score.
A Korean student living in the United States applied for Harvard Medical School but did not get in because he or she had not done volunteer work, not even donating blood or participating in any extracurricular activities.
I lived in Washington for a couple of years as a correspondent and I found there were many problems there too. But at least in the United States, smart and hard-working student are very unlikely to have disadvantages because such children are encouraged to do better. There is no need for students to take private lessons. Whether a student is good or bad, he or she can choose the right level of study. That benefits both students and teachers.
Korean students who go to schools in the United States do not want to come back to Korea. This is not because they do not love their home country. Even young children know what’s good for them. When I lived in Washington, I had a conversation about Korea’s education system with an American teacher. I told the teacher that Korea has an egalitarian education system so all students study in the same class and use the same curriculum, regardless of ability. The teacher asked, “How is that possible?” I had a hard time finding an answer.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration has failed dramatically in its education and real estate policies. The two are inseparable. Housing prices in southern Seoul have surged due mostly to educational issues.
What was the reason for this failure? It’s mainly because the government viewed education and the real estate market as means to implement its ideology and political convictions, instead of seeing the issues as they are. The primary goal of education is to train children to become healthy and competitive citizens. However, this administration infused its hostility toward the rich and talented people into its education policy.
The same is true of its real estate policy. The government is like a hero in a tragedy who has lost his senses because of jealousy and anger.
The second problem is hypocrisy. A government official at the Blue House told people not to buy houses in southern Seoul, even though he lives in that area himself. Another government official in charge of education policies maintained that elite foreign language high schools were a major problem in education, but it turned out that he sent his children to such schools.
Sometimes I wonder about scholars who inform politicians and those who form real estate and education policies. They stress equality and egalitarianism, but I wonder how they have raised their own children and where they live.
It is hard to understand why the people who hate the former Park Chung Hee administration more than anything will do anything to protect the egalitarianism-oriented education system that the Park administration created. This system should have been discarded in the 21st century. The government’s regulations and interference in the operation of companies and universities are no less strict than they were under the Park administration.
In the past, there were many prestigious high schools across the country. Smart children did not need to go to Seoul for a better education. Once admitted to such schools, even kids from poor families could dream of going to prestigious universities. But how are things now?
We should not be fooled by the fancy rhetoric of those who cry “egalitarianism.” The government says it is trying to change education to bring children up in a more humane manner, but it has created 10 more subjects than before.
If we educate and train children in the same way without considering their different talents and levels of intelligence, we will no longer have people like the swimmer Park Tae-hwan or the figure skater Kim Yu-na. The government must get rid of its hypocrisy. The people are sick and tired of it.

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

by Kim Chong-hyuk
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