[Viewpoint] The equality mythPoliticians who might run for president should make public the names of the schools their children are attending or have attended. We’ve seen one too many politicians claim hypocritically, “Equalization is crucial at any cost,” only to send their children to foreign language high schools, alternative schools with American-style curriculums or even abroad at an early age to study.
Consider our situation. Korea ranks 12th in the world in terms of the size of its economy and spends the highest amount per household on private education. For all that, how many Korean universities are in the top 100 in the world? How long have Koreans been going abroad for their children’s education and how many have sworn off having any children due to the educational burden?
Despite these trends, there have been no improvements at all.
Why is that so? It is because of hypocrisy. It is human nature that people want to give their children a better education. Readers probably know better. Politicians are the people who have shouted out equality to others, while in practice staying true to their human nature.
Some would encourage this argument for disclosure and say, “What can you expect from politicians? I hope journalists dig out the truth and report the behind-the-scenes stories.”
Some might jeer [assuming only the comfortable demand honesty]: “You must be a graduate of Gyeonggi High School and Seoul National University,” or “Do you live in a wealthy Gangnam residential area?”
I don’t belong to either of those groups. Some people even suspect my political sympathies. I do not care who becomes president, whether he or she is progressive or conservative, as long as he or she can solve our education problem.
Why did I single out education? It is because I feel sorry for Korean children. Once, on my way home around 1 a.m., I met a neighbor’s child in the elevator. He was just getting home, exhausted after attending extra classes at a private educational institute after school. “What grade are you in?” I asked. “Eighth,” he answered.
I felt a surge of anger. In every respect, this amounts to child abuse. In what other country would children be dozing off during classes at school and cramming all night at private educational institutes?
Some say there is no solution to our education problem. After repeated disappointments, they are in a state of resignation.
I think there is a solution. But there is one thing we must overcome first: the egalitarian ideology, which is misused at all levels during elections.
For whom is the equalization of education being promoted? Is it for the children? I don’t think so. Equalization is for people such as:
? First, the officials in the Ministry of Education. The ministry is anxious to standardize all elementary, middle and high schools nationwide, and even universities under the guise of a standardization policy. There is no other organization in the world as powerful as the Korean Ministry of Education.
? Second are the teachers. There may be some exceptions, but in general, Korean teachers are not obligated to give the best instruction in the classroom, as students with different levels of academic ability are mixed together.
? Third, the politicians. Whenever an election is around the corner, the politicians say, “Every child must get an equal education.” They play on parents’ anxiety that their children might not receive fair treatment in education, to gain votes.
? Fourth are private educational institutes. Cram schools are always full of children who are unsatisfied with their regular school classes. On the one hand, these places are overflowing with children who say their school classes are too easy and they need to learn at their own level. On the other hand, they are overflowing with children who say their school classes are too hard and they need to supplement their studies.
Either way, life is good for the private institutes.
? Fifth are the parents. It is good for children to learn in classes appropriate to their academic level, but parents’ pride does not allow this. Parents cannot allow the idea of dividing up classes according to students’ academic ability, despite the fact that taking classes at inappropriate academic levels is torturous for students.
The country has followed an equalization policy for more than 30 years. It has now become more of mythology.
Some say that dissolving equalization would be like taking sides with the wealthy, leaving the weak prey to the strong, discriminating against children on the basis of academic ability and going against the ideals of education.
I see the opposite.
Equalization is unequal education and its purpose is to satisfy the desires of adults. I think it is a model that goes against the ideals of education because it emphasizes casting students in a uniform mold to turn out standardized graduates.
It may have played some positive role in the past, but it no longer has a place in society ― certainly not in the 21st century.
We now need to break away from the lie that has been sustained for the past 30 years. Let’s end the march of hypocrisy now.
*The writer is the senior city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Chong-hyuk