[Viewpoint]‘Three Nos’ policy is short-sighted

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[Viewpoint]‘Three Nos’ policy is short-sighted

Education is said to be a long-range national goal. This means that a solid principle that does not change even after 100 years must be established on education-related matters.
Words like “reform” and “revolution” do not go well with education. By nature education evolves consistently without breaking down its original essence. The slogan of former U.S. President George Bush, who introduced sweeping education legislation in 1990, was not education reform but “America 2000 Excellence in Education.”
Education is an essentially rivalrous good ― it can be consumed by only one person at a time. The key is variety of opportunities and free choice. Mandatory education as a public good is a long-held axiom shared by developed countries; at the same time it is known that the market can do better than the government in a competitive world. Needless to say, there are many flaws and problems in the free market economy, too. However, we have to face the reality that there is no better alternative.
Equal opportunity for education guaranteed by the Constitution means “the right to receive education according to one’s ability” without discrimination against family background or financial capability. The opportunities should be equal, but there cannot be equality in the result.
Korea is not known as a country of educational superiority, but of excessive regulations on education. It is shameful that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development pointed out that government control has weakened the autonomy of our universities. Is there another country in the world where the government not only gives a uniform guideline for university entrance examinations, but also intervenes even in deciding the test levels?
Although the government touts “breaking down of regulations” as one of its achievements, it is adamant about educational regulations, saying they are “a provision for minimum equality.” Education in Korea is tilted toward educational populism.
Korea’s education has been hostile to creativity for a long time. Although the College Scholastic Ability Test for university entrance decorates national news headlines each year and the entire country makes a great fuss about putting all efforts into education, not a single internationally renowned scholar or university has been produced in Korea. This is because of our cram school-style education and monolithic educational system.
The view that instead of selecting highfliers competitively, we should focus on training ordinary students to become great talents, is theoretically correct. However, without taking the trouble, starting from the selection process, to pick the best students in specific fields, it is not possible to produce international talents.
The greatest harm of the “Three Nos” policy in education is that it does not stop at university entrance procedures, and leads to weakening of the competitiveness of universities. Riding on the waves of globalization, Korean universities are also rapidly globalizing themselves. They are competing to create a better academic environment by inviting not only professors and researchers, but also talented students, from all over the world. How can Korean universities, tied down by the “Three Nos” policy, dare to participate in this global competition?
It’s an undeniable reality that there are differences in the level of scholastic ability of high schools. High school grades that do not reflect such differences lose their significance.
If public education deteriorates due to monolithic education, the poor will eventually be disadvantaged because they cannot supplement their studies with private education. If the College Scholastic Ability Test scores and high school grades lose their discriminating power, talented but poor students will be buried by our monolithic education.
There is no reason to reject the “donations-for-admission” policy, if the contributions made by scores of students can provide scholarships to thousands of students with potential but few financial means, giving them the chance to excel. And the transparency of the system will be guaranteed if universities are given autonomy and tools for monitoring and oversight. Renowned overseas universities maintain balance and diversity in student populations by selecting talented students from rural areas or low-income minority ethnic groups. The market is more effective than the government in reducing social gaps, too.
People frequently say that for the future of the nation, the president should know politics, or an economic president should be elected. However, the country has no future if its education is degraded to a third class level.
The debate over nullifying the “Three Nos” policy is going full steam, and the candidates for the presidential primary elections are too wary of public opinion to express their views.
The “Three Nos” policy is not a clash of interests between universities and government, but a blinder on Korea’s long-term national policy. It is time for a true education president to come forth and put it right.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Byun Sang-keun
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