[Viewpoint]Medicine for its own diseaseIn principle, every business is fierce enough to be able to lure people who love to ski to a place where it is sandy and hot. And sure enough, the unique idea of constructing indoor ski slopes in Dubai has brought about great fortunes, as those slopes are some of the country’s major tourist attractions.
By comparison, it is a piece of cake for Korean cram schools, or hagwon, to earn money. The market is swarming with students who want to enter prestigious universities. The cram schools have achieved fame and recognition in their field, and have a consistent stream of students throughout the year.
Why are the fees for lessons so expensive? The answer is simple. The cram schools are crowded with students eager to sign up.
A lecturer who made his reputation as a splendid teacher in Seoul is earning more than 1 million won, or $1,100, for giving several lectures.
Some people say the lecture fees should be lowered. However, there is no doubt that the cram schools feel no need to cut down on their fees because they have an abundance of customers in spite of their high prices.
No one but an idiot would reduce prices voluntarily when there are plenty of customers willing to pay high prices.
The market for private tutoring, represented by cram schools, has already fully matured.
However, there is no doubt that Education Ministry officials think the industry still needs help.
Is there any other way to explain the fact that they have presented the private tutoring industry with another big present, the so-called “Ranking System of the National College Scholastic Ability Test”?
At this time every year, the cram schools that specialize in teaching students how to write a good essay in university entrance examinations happily count their cash.
The new ranking system put on the National College Scholastic Ability Test is making bigger contributions to these cram schools than ever before.
Students have a conundrum, because they have no idea which grade groups their scores fall in.
The only choice they have left is to hit the cram schools once again, and start preparing for the one remaining university test.
The Education Ministry’s desk plan, which looks idealistic but unrealistic, has driven all of the students and parents into a painful situation.
Now that cram schools are raking in money, the Education Ministry is trying to control the high prices of those lessons by mobilizing working-level officials from the regional offices of education to supervise them.
In the case of an essay cram school in Gangnam, southern Seoul, the government says the lesson fees of more than 200,000 won are too high. If a cram school is caught overcharging, its registry may be forfeited or it could become the target of a tax audit.
Such regulations were designed to punish bad cram schools that worry innocent parents and ask them for too much money. Cynically speaking, people should extend their heartfelt gratitude to the government because it is trying to control the cram school fees for the public’s convenience.
However, if we think about it, the whole idea is strange. Cram schools are not afraid of such dreadful regulations. The parents’ behavior is pretty strange, too. Even though they can’t afford such expensive lessons, they don’t report the schools to the authorities. There is a huge gap between rhetoric and reality.
The government is reproachful, rather than thankful. It drove anxious students and parents to cram schools and is now poised to punish them for asking high prices. It gives the disease, then offers the medicine later. It is totally ridiculous for public officials, who get their money from taxpayers, to give the people a disease.
They try to give them medicine, but even small children are well aware that it is of no use.
Nobody thinks that expensive lesson fees would be rooted out by on-the-spot investigations conducted by a few public officials.
The government has made the unnecessary regulations. Now it is trying to rule the private tutoring industry with its foolish standards. There is no reason for that at all.
The first step to resolve the problems is to grant universities the right to choose their own students. It would serve as a catalyst to help universities choose students based on their own standards.
For the students who want to enter an art school, for example, the core element for screening could be the ability to draw. However, a great deal of the evaluation is still based on the National College Scholastic Ability Test scores.
Music colleges are not an exception. That is what the government has forced the universities to do.
Education Ministry officials insist that the public’s education has been damaged due to private tutors. However, that is nonsense. They are the real culprits.
People everywhere all want to enter prestigious universities. As long as many people have the same goals, the private tutoring industry will never disappear.
Teachers at public schools receive a fixed monthly salary, regardless of how well they teach. They are public servants and will never get fired.
What about lecturers in a cram school?
They should get more money if they help students earn better scores in the examinations.
If they get famous for their competency, they should get a thick stack of bills in return. Of course, they may be incapable of teaching well. If so, they should pack their belongings and leave instantly. That is why public education cannot beat private tutoring, and that is why the private tutoring industry will never die.
The business of private tutoring will continue to prosper, despite the government’s harsh interference, as shown in the case of the ranking system of the National College Scholastic Ability Test.
As long as the government interferes in every detail of the universities, private tutoring will continue to thrive.
*The writer is the senior business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Shim Shang-bok