[Outlook]Reforming education

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[Outlook]Reforming education

President-elect Lee Myung-bak announced recently that Korea must go beyond industrialization and democratization to advance further. All the sectors in our country ― politics, economics, religion and culture ― must advance, but educational advancement is needed more than anything else. Our education remains stuck in the era of industrialization.
Since 1967, students have not taken admissions tests to get into junior high schools, and since 1973, high schools have become more or less the same. Historically, talented students and students with mediocre scores attended different schools.
This framework has been sustained without much change. School buildings and facilities have changed quite a lot compared to the 1960s, but the contents and methods of education in junior high and high schools have hardly changed at all.
In schools, teachers read textbooks and write notes on the blackboard. Questions for the national college scholastic ability test are mostly based on what is written in textbooks. Students are educated identically, just as identical products are produced in factories.
In this education system, students feel stuck and some of them cannot stand it any longer. This leads around 100 students per year to kill themselves by, for instance, jumping from high-rise apartment buildings. Human resource staff in companies say that there are many graduates but few of them meet qualifications. The resource managers complain that schools haven’t taught students what they need to know to thrive in the workplace.
Education focused on textbooks helped our country move from being an agricultural nation to an industrialized one. But the same education hinders both individuals’ and the country’s development and growth in this global era of knowledge and information.
These days, immeasurable new knowledge and information is produced each day, so it is wrong to regard textbooks as the absolute truth and to make students memorize them. Students need to be trained to search for knowledge and information and create new knowledge and information based on what they find.
Different schools must be built to develop students’ various competencies and talents. Even within the same schools, content and methods of educating should vary depending on students’ competence and aptitude. Schools need to produce students with diverse skills to lead a society that keeps changing at a rapid speed.
Advanced countries, such as the United States, England and Germany, started reforming the framework and institutions in their education systems to make them suitable for the era of knowledge and information.
The governments in those countries do not intervene in private schools, so these schools have full autonomy when selecting students, deciding how much tuition students should pay and what will be on the curriculum.
As for public schools, parents and students can choose schools that they like. Each school offers education in a way that it sees as best to enhance students’ creativity.
High schools have close relationships with companies, universities and research centers that help students learn new knowledge and information. Experts in various fields take part in this system and train the students who will lead society in the future. Korea has unusually high barriers between schools and society.
The Lee Myung-bak administration, which will take office soon, must change the framework for education to better suit our times. First, it must examine Lee’s pledges on education thoroughly, namely the plan to establish various types of high schools and the three-step measure to give autonomy to universities. Officials must see whether Lee’s plans are reasonable and have a good possibility to advance our education system.
During the presidential election campaign, there was hardly any chance to listen to the people because of scandals, such as the BBK case. This makes an examination of pledges now even more important.
Unlike in the past, reforms in education cannot be carried out by the government alone. Using countless hearings, academic conferences and debates, the government must listen to opinions from different sectors of society on what changes need to take place in education. Based on these opinions, the government must seek a consensus with the people before pushing for education reform.
What is most urgent is to amend all kinds of laws for education, which are now mostly about interference and regulations. In so doing, a new institution and foundation for different types of education will be prepared. We hope that Lee’s presidential transition team will pave the way for education reform.

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

by Cheong Jean-gon
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