[Outlook]Educational escapeesWhen I went to Australia last year, I heard stories about Korean students studying there. Three high school students came to Sydney to study, but they did not take it seriously. They drank every night, drove an expensive car and took drugs. One-and-a-half years later, the school authorities said they could no longer stand the students so the parents were forced to bring them home. The parents of two students brought their children back to Korea.
The parents of the third student said their child was once serious and well-behaved but that he had changed because he made the wrong kind of friends. They begged the authorities to transfer him to a school where there were no other Korean students. So he was transferred to a school in the countryside.
But he did not speak English so he couldn’t understand classes and couldn’t make friends there. He developed a mental disorder six months later so he too had to come back to Korea.
Last year alone, 29,511 elementary, middle and high school students went abroad to study. That was up 44.6 percent compared to the previous year’s 20,400 or so. Korean students go not only to the United States, Australia and Canada but also to China, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and South Africa.
The parents who send their children abroad may believe that their children study hard and adapt to life in schools there. Unfortunately, however, less than 30 percent of these students are doing well in the new environments. Countless students fail to adapt to a new culture. Some students become miserable, like the one in Australia, and come back to Korea. In some families, mothers stay with their children so the wives and husbands live apart for long periods of time. That sometimes ruins families in the end.
Are there any solutions? Yes; if Korea establishes many good schools, the number of students who go abroad to study will drop significantly.
As an increasing number of Thai students want to study abroad, the Thai government established some 100 international schools for local and foreign students. Even communist China has hundreds of international schools in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Shandong Province.
Korea goes against this international trend. Many children become educational refugees and roam the world. But the government is squeezing existing foreign language schools instead of establishing new international ones.
The government has persistently criticized foreign language high schools, saying that parents spend too much money on private tutors for their children to be admitted to such schools and those who do not go to those schools are left to feel unnecessarily bad about themselves.
Lately, the government withdrew the right to issue permits to establish schools in cities and provinces as a way to stop new foreign language high schools from being built.
Late this month, the government plans to announce measures to make foreign language high schools belong to the same category as vocational schools. Then those students who wanted to go to foreign language schools will prefer to go abroad so there will be more educational refugees.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration has divided the country between the metropolitan area and the outlying regions, between northern Seoul and southern Seoul, between the haves and have-nots and between the educated and the uneducated.
The policy regarding foreign language high schools is in line with this. The government divides foreign language high schools and regular schools and attempts to crush the former.
If we are divided among ourselves, the result is that we only waste the nation’s energy. Our rivals are not the residents in Gyeonggi or in Chungcheong. We must compete against the United States, Japan, China and European countries. Koreans are more enthusiastic about education than other people and we have good human resources. There are people who want to use their private assets to establish and run schools.
If the government allows the people to establish and run schools freely, we can make schools that are even better than those in the United States, Japan and China. Putting foreign language high schools in the same category as vocational schools is a bad idea. We should make them among the world’s best so as to attract foreign students.
However, to expect this to happen in the Roh administration is like expecting roses to bloom in harsh Siberia.
We simply hope that the government’s policy that will be announced late this month that will not totally kill foreign language high schools. This way the following administration can revive them.
*The writer is a professor of education at Hanyang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Cheong Jean-gon