[Viewpoint]This time, make actual changes

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[Viewpoint]This time, make actual changes

For years, developed nations around the world have been investing heavily on education to nurture outstanding talent.
The Lee Myung-bak administration has proclaimed it will make Korea an educational power by drastically changing the educational environment.
A few days ago, in fact, the administration announced it will give universities total freedom to select their students.
The administration also plans various new policies, including a greater diversification of high schools.
The end goal is a reliable public school system that parents trust, guaranteeing freedom, competition and accountability. That, in turn, could cut the cost of private tutoring and cram schools by half.
While most citizens agree with the direction being pursed by the new administration, there are as many concerns as expectations.
Most of all, the new administration should try to change the educational system into something citizens want. The government needs to minimize the difficulties that students and parents face.
The previous administrations have tangled over educational issues instead of resolving them. This has played out in the high school grading system, the College Scholastic Ability Test grading system, and the actual weight colleges give to high school grades.
Students and parents have been caught in a system that some call “the triangle of death.”
It shows that government intervention is not always a good thing. Problems can arise when the administration stays out of college admissions and lets universities choose its students. Instead of getting involved in each case, the government should show patience and prepare a proper environment that allows the individual educational institutes to resolve the problems themselves.
Ultimately, the government needs to make actual changes to actual school sites. The incoming administration should focus on that goal constantly.
Past administrations have proposed various policies, as fancy as the ornaments on a Christmas tree, but they didn’t bring about any actual changes.
Now, it is important to encourage changes in the schools, not only through competition among students but also through competition among schools and teachers.
Through “High School Diversification 300” and the “Three-stage College Entrance System Reform,” individual schools should operate and expand various specialized programs. Each program should take high school grades into account in different ways, instead of having the same weight for all programs. It is important that colleges and the government create a relationship that benefits both of them.
The biggest beneficiaries of such changes will be students and their parents.
If the country’s education program continues to focus on college admissions, and students are able to excel just by simply memorizing things, it will be more advantageous for them to attend private after-school academies.
However, if the schools offer unique programs and each teacher has a distinct lecture style and grading method, individual universities can dominate private institutes.
The new administration needs to emphasize each educational institute’s social accountability, something previous administrations did not do enough, and create a system in which educational customers get enough of the information they need.
Fortunately, an information disclosure system will be put into effect this year. That means not only information on elementary, middle and high schools, but also information on colleges and universities ― including their employment rate ― will be made available to the public.
That will help the students and their parents considerably. From now on, each school will be able to show how much effort it is making, and schools in underdeveloped regions will have the justification to ask the government for assistance to improve their teaching environment.
If, despite this various assistance, a school doesn’t make any visible changes, it is highly possible that the students and parents will no longer tolerate the school.
The schools hoping to keep their prestige by selecting outstanding students instead of making serious efforts to educate them will also be gradually shunned, because they not doing their part for society.
The country can join the ranks of developed countries when it nurtures outstanding talent by educating students in various programs through elementary, middle and high schools to go on to colleges and choose majors that suit their aptitude.
Hopefully, five years from now, I will hear that the Lee Myung-bak administration has retooled the Republic of Korea as an educational power.
In order to make that dream come true, we need wisdom from all of our citizens.

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

by Yang Jung-ho
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