[Outlook]Getting education right

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[Outlook]Getting education right

The new government’s blueprint for educational reform announced by the presidential transition team was met with both enthusiastic welcome and worry about the speed and scope of reforms. People applaud because they expect diversity and autonomy, which were blocked in the past, to increase, but they have a lingering fear about changes as well. With the launch of the Lee Myung-bak administration, the blueprint needs to be sorted out again so that education reform, which will affect all areas of education, can be successfully enacted.
President Lee’s pledge on education emphasizes autonomy and diversity, a fundamental difference compared to the policy of the past 10 years, which could be characterized as government-led and standardized.
Organizations related to education policy, which may be as numerous as the population, expect educational promises to be backed up with concrete content and practical implementation.
The keys to successfully resolving problems in our education system are: to form an ideological consensus that harmonizes egalitarianism and liberalism; to decide and enact policy that saves parents from having to choose between encouraging children to break free of their peers so that they can be better educated (such as by sending them ab-road to study) and losing their sense of national identity; and to change the system of educational investment.
What’s even more important is to make continual efforts to rejuvenate our education system, instead of simply making announcements or declaring educational reforms.
In this respect, it is appropriate that the new administration will aim reforms at elementary, middle and high schools ― aimed at achieving of double satisfaction from schools and cutting spending on private tutors in half ― as well as at universities. University reforms aim to make Korea more competitive.
The government’s policy is aimed at easing the burden students face when competing to pass university entrance examinations, reducing the cost of private tutoring and guaranteeing that individuals can choose which school they attend.
In a new paradigm, not only students but also schools have to compete against one another. Schools will be given autonomy and responsibility at the same time. Their achievements will be publicized to consumers in the education field. The government will shake off unnecessary burdens by easing regulations while seeking measures to offer equal educational opportunities to underprivileged people.
The High School Education Diversification 300 project, three-step measures to give universities autonomy and ensuring students’ basic educational ability and good character are the keys of education policy.
To succeed in these tasks, the government must listen to the following advice. First, it needs a policy that is inclusive of all of Korea’s students. The new government takes a liberal bent on changing the focus of our educational system to being driven by consumers rather than suppliers. But it also needs to give consideration to areas other than Seoul.
Second, educational customs and culture must change. Unreliable public schools and the private tutoring market have created a significant gap in school performance and educational background among students, which damages egalitarianism. We need a policy that provides good educational environments, teachers, school equipment and facilities to all students in order to narrow the gaps between regions and schools.
These gaps are often pinpointed as one of the most serious problems in education.
Third, the pace of reform must increase. Even if the goals and methods of reform are excellent, efforts to better oneself are the most important factor. Like any others, educational reforms can be implemented in various ways.
Thus, how priorities are assigned becomes very important. If not just the government but also the private sector makes efforts to present a comprehensive vision and implement reforms one step at a time, our educational system won’t remain a problem forever.

*The writer is a professor at Ewha Womans University and the president of the Forum of Educational Reform. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Chung-soo
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