[Outlook]Candidates and education

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[Outlook]Candidates and education

The prosecution released the result of the investigation into the BBK case yesterday. The conclusion is that Lee Myung-bak, the Grand National Party’s presidential candidate, was not involved in stock price manipulation, did not own BBK and that the contract that had been submitted was fake.
The presidential candidates have been in conflict about this case. One side said a single bullet would blow Lee away, and Lee’s camp said that the gun was not loaded. Another candidate said if Lee was blown away, someone else must run for the presidency and he was the only one to do the job. It was more like a Western movie than a presidential election campaign.
As the candidates pour all their time and energy into finding their rivals’ flaws and attacking one another, meaningful questions about policy have drifted out of people’s attention. It was only recently that newspapers asked me to examine the presidential candidates’ pledges on education. Examining the materials and references I was given, I looked into education policies by the so-called leading contenders, Lee Myung-bak, Chung Dong-young and Lee Hoi-chang. Lee Hoi-chang said that 100,000 additional teachers would be hired, English education would be intensified and education welfare for families with low income would be enhanced in order to revive the now collapsing public school system. His pledge lacks concrete plans and is not persuasive in his argument that such plans would revive public education.
Chung Dong-young, who said he would become the “president of education,” plans for people to receive education for free, from their infancy to the time they reach high school. There will also be 300 public high schools that offer education for talented students, and the government will make sure to offer quality English courses. Despite his self-claimed title, his pledge also lacks tangible content.
Lee Myung-bak’s education policy makes more promises than the others. The government will select 300 special high schools, including public schools operated by private companies, to offer educational variety and intensify English classes. It would also give step-by-step autonomy to universities in recruiting new students. He also plans for students’ school performance to become better so that spending on private tutoring, which amounted to 30 trillion won ($32.4 billion) this year will be reduced to 15 trillion won in six years. He certainly offers many side dishes but that doesn’t mean that they are all good. His pledge evades the core issues.
Lee Myung-bak’s plan does not present a vision and a policy to produce talented people that a society of knowledge and information requires. It deserves compliments because he is aware that people are having hard times educating their children. But the pledge of a person who aspires to be president should be better than this. To focus on reducing expenses for private tutoring is the same as prescribing pills to help digestion to a patient with stomach cancer. The reason why people spend so much on private lessons is the public educational system is not good enough.
Our public schooling can’t train and produce the manpower required by society in an age of knowledge and information. In such a society, we need people who can recognize relevant data and find ways to use it to create new knowledge. More is needed than simply memorizing textbooks.
To train the people we need, the mandatory curriculum must be discarded or minimized and regulations on textbooks must be changed. The educational administration is all about regulations and control. That must be reformed as well.
Our educational system is more suited for an industrial society that focuses on mass-production of a few items. We need to change the system into one for a country that produces specialized items in smaller quantities. Schools must be open so that not only teachers, but also experts in other fields, are allowed to teach our future generation. Many countries in the world, such as the United States, England and Germany, have continuously moved their educational systems in this direction.
The presidential candidates’ pledges have an influence on national policies and the way the state is managed. When the presidential candidates’ pledges are not good enough to reflect the changes and needs of our times, the future of our country is truly in jeopardy. If the next administration sticks to an education system suitable for an industrial society, it will collapse, and Korea will become a second-rate country.
Not much time remains before the election. But the presidential candidates must end their Western movie-like campaigns. Instead, they must say how they are going to address the needs of the nation and we need to examine carefully what they say.

*The writer is a professor of education at Hanyang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cheong Jean-gon

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