Realistic education reformLee Myung-bak, the presidential candidate of the Grand National Party, presented a five-point education blueprint to enhance the quality and competitiveness of public schooling. The plan includes establishing 300 high schools specializing in different fields, granting universities autonomy when recruiting new students, intensifying English education, making sure no students fail to acquire a minimum score in major subjects and boosting the competitiveness of schools. The plan aims to cut in half parental spending on private tutoring and prevent poverty from being passed down from parents to children by offering quality public education to low-income families.
The government intervenes on entrance exams for universities and high schools. Entrance exams change often and become worse. Entering a university has become so difficult that a new term, “deadly triangle,” was coined to describe the three components of the exams -- tests, school records and essay writing. Thus, many students increasingly depend on private tutoring or leave the country. Universities and professors protest against the government and public opinion says the Education Ministry must be shut down.
Lee’s pledge implies an intention to reform Korean education by encouraging schools and teachers to compete with one another, giving students more choices regarding schools and enhancing autonomy in universities. These ideas are similar to what we have maintained, but Lee’s plan is not good enough to reform education. There are three parts that can be added. First, the autonomy of universities must be guaranteed. Second, the egalitarian policy for high schools must be changed thoroughly. Third, teacher evaluations must be carried out and information on education must be publicized to enhance the competitiveness of schools.
Education policy must be crafted with a long-term perspective because educating the young is the most important asset of the future and it is even more so in this knowledge-based century. But our education system and policy has only become worse. Now is the time to reform and revive our education system. That is the task for the next administration. Other presidential candidates must present their education policies. But they must not present a rosy illusion just to gain more votes. If they do, that will only make things more complicated.
They must perceive the reality dispassionately, present reform plans and wait for the people’s evaluation.