[Viewpoint]Get serious about education

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[Viewpoint]Get serious about education

President-elect Lee Myung-bak is apparently just as passionate about his children’s education as every other parent. He even moved his residence registration illegally so that his three daughters and a son could attend good schools. All four of his children attended private elementary schools. His first and second daughters graduated from the Julliard School of Music in the United States, and his third daughter, who majored in fine arts, is a graduate of Ewha Womans University. His only son went to the United States to study at Pennsylvania State University.
Therefore, he must have put a tremendous amount of money into education, particularly private education. Ordinary people would not dare do what he did for his children, but as parents perhaps they can understand what he did for his children.
He might have thought, “I went to evening classes at a commercial high school because I could not afford the tuition at a regular high school, and entered university at a late age because I could not dream of going to university at the time I finished high school. I did not want to pass that pain onto my children.”
The people have put high expectations on President-elect Lee, who had a painful experience but a passion for education.
They especially hope he will keep his public pledge to double public satisfaction in school education while cutting the costs of private education in half.
The cost of private education, which has forced parents to spend their hard-earned money, is actually ruining the nation. As was revealed by President-elect Lee, the amount spent by Koreans on private instruction this year was more than 30 trillion won ($32 billion). This is almost the same amount as the annual education budget.
However, President-elect Lee has promised to cut private education costs in half, down to 15 trillion won, by 2012. He said he would strengthen public education by giving more autonomy to universities and expanding the diversity of schools. He promised to reform the university entrance examination system in three stages.
First, he wants to give freedom to universities to decide the weight they give to school records and scores on the College Scholastic Ability Test when they decide whom to admit; second, he wants to reduce the number of CSAT subjects; and third, giving universities complete freedom to select their students.
He intends to revise the grading system for the College Scholastic Ability Test, which created a lot of confusion last year.
Lee also presented his “300 High School Diversification Plan,” which aims to create, out of about 2,100 high schools across the country, 100 independent private high schools, 150 public boarding high schools in underperforming areas and 50 specialized high schools. He also plans to increase the number of native English-speaking teaching aides to strengthen English education, which eats up almost half of the total costs of private education. There are still many vague points in the plan, since its details are not yet known. It seems likely, however, that some kind of change will take place.
Will President-elect Lee be able to hold down the cost of private education? I met many people in the education field during the year-end season. Most of them were a bit doubtful. They would say, Lee was too quick to promise things that the previous governments have not been able to achieve,
Many people expressed the opinion that fixing the education system was not, unlike the restoration of Cheonggye Stream, something that would achieve results right away.
In particular, people involved in private education laughed at Lee’s plans. Since private education is already the widespread norm, nervous students will crowd the private educational institutes again if the government changes the university entrance examination once more.
The heads of cram schools feel they have nothing to lose with a new plan, whatever it may be. Their logic is that, even if the education policy is changed, it would still take three to four years to execute. The next administration would then change it again, providing continuous good news to private educators.
This is actually what has happened in the past. The average annual cost of a private education, which was 10 trillion won during the Kim Dae-jung administration, has increased twice as much during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, to 21.972 trillion won.
The number of private educational institutes for university entrance preparation was 17,833 in 2001, but rose to 32,829 last year, according to the National Statistical Office. The present administration introduced the new CSAT grading system, and regulated universities and specialized high schools. Ironically, that ended up making the private educational institutes wealthier. The online private education company, Megastudy, which started with 300 million won in capital in 2000, has achieved great success. Its profit this year was 150 billion won, and its shares listed on the Kosdaq amounts to more than 1.7 trillion won.
If the government wants to reform education, it should promote reform more carefully and thoroughly, with the heart of parents and with an attitude focused on serving students. Short-term prescriptions designed to increase popularity should not be followed. We must achieve reform that is predictable, stable and equipped for international competitiveness, so the next administration will continue to sustain it.
If President-elect Lee succeeds in cutting private education costs in half, all the people will be happy. But the reality is cruel. If the grand public pledge was only for the purpose of gaining votes, history’s evaluation will be severe. President-elect Lee should provide a detailed, thorough and trustworthy roadmap for educational reform after listening to the people from all walks of life. This is the hope of students and parents in the Year of the Rat.

*The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yang Young-yu
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