[Viewpoint]Luck not enough for ministerKim Shin-il, deputy prime minister and minister of education and human resources development, is a lucky man. After teaching college students for 39 years, the Seoul National University professor retired at age 64 in February 2006.
The education scholar wrote more than 80 papers, educated students and lived a simple life with humble assets of 255.69 million won ($275,000). On Sept. 20, 2006, Kim was appointed to the country’s highest educational authority.
The Education Ministry, the media and the academia were surprised by the appointment, which even Kim did not expect. Fate worked in his favor when Kim Byung-joon, former Blue House senior secretary for policy planning, had to resign in early August, only 18 days after he was made the deputy prime minister of education following a plagiarism scandal. For nearly a month, many names were mentioned to succeed Kim Byung-joon, but Kim Shin-il was never one of them. Then, the Blue House suddenly chose him. It was later said that his publications had a flawless record. Kim’s long streak of luck is likely to continue during his tenure, which has already lasted eight months. If he lasts through the end of the Roh Administration, he will have served as education minister for 17 months, through February 2008.
Since 1993, 17 education ministers have served under three presidents: Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Their average length of service was just nine months. The five education ministers previously appointed during the Roh Administration served an average of less than eight months.
The media has also protected Kim, unlike his predecessors. Ahn Byung-young was harshly criticized for the College Scholastic Ability Test cheating scandal, and Kim Jin-pyo was held responsible for creating confusing foreign language high school policy. Kim Byung-joon’s ethics were attacked because of the alleged plagiarism.
For a while, Mr. Kim avoided the media, and the media showed little interest in him. His words were long and boring and lacked the sensational elements that make good headlines. When the media was too indifferent, the Ministry of Education even asked newspapers to write about the minister.
These days, however, Kim is frequently covered by the media. Since President Roh Moo-hyun started to push the “three nos” policy in March, Kim has been acting as the spokesman for a policy that bans colleges from administering their own entrance exams, admitting students based on donations they have made and ranking students based on the level of their high schools. The problem is that Mr. Kim has been barnstorming around the country, repeating the same rhetoric. On May 4, he met with college and university presidents in the Gwangju and South Jeolla region to pressure them, saying colleges must not dominate secondary schools by using their power of admission. On May 3, he said at the North Jeolla Province Office of Education, “Public education will collapse if colleges are allowed to pick their students any way they wish.” He is scheduled to give the same lecture in Gyeonggi on May 9 and again in Jeju on May 11.
Since his first speech at Ewha High School last month, he has been reiterating the same thing for a month in different places.
Kim’s report card during the first eight months has not been satisfactory. He has not carried through a single policy change, from the teacher evaluation system to the law school act to the plan to turn national universities into corporations.
Before blaming the politicians, he should have visited the National Assembly to try to persuade the lawmakers. So many students are studying extra hours at private institutions and are leaving the country to study abroad in droves. Teachers are asking the students not to come to school on Teacher’s Day so they aren’t involved in bribery rumors. Kim apparently doesn’t have time to seek solutions to these problems, much less a publicity tour. It is a pity that a man who is expected to follow his educational beliefs seems so engrossed in being loyal to the president. If he doesn’t like being called lucky, he should stand by his own philosophy. How about starting with personnel reform to break the stigma of the “Seoul National University Mafia?” How long should we tolerate an organization dominated by yes men from Seoul National University’s teachers’ college who hold sway over educational policies?
He should show the courage to disclose the College Scholastic Ability Test results and the academic achievement level of each school based on the Educational Information Disclosure Act, which was decided by the Seoul High Court and passed by the National Assembly. It will be a chance to encourage healthy competition among teachers and schools. Students, parents and colleges will all welcome the move. If he wants to shake off his label of being a policy advocate for the three nos, he needs to put these two things into action. It will be the first step to be loved by citizens, not as a lucky man but as a resolute deputy prime minister.
*The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yang Young-yu