[Viewpoint]Declare your independenceKim Shin-il was the last minister of Education and Human Resources under the Roh Moo-hyun administration. When he was a professor of education at Seoul National University, he asserted autonomy and competition in education. However, as a minister, he followed in line behind the Roh administration’s standardization-oriented policies and left office disgraced.
Kim Doh-yeon is the first minister of Education, Science and Technology in the Lee Myung-bak administration. As the dean of the Engineering College at Seoul National University, he emphasized college admission reform and autonomy. His beliefs coincide with the policy direction of the new administration.
The appointment of both Kims was considered a surprise. Former minister Kim Shin-il joined the cabinet in August 2006 after his predecessor, Kim Byung-jun, resigned after only 13 days in office due to allegations that he plagiarized parts of this thesis.
Kim Shin-il, meanwhile, was a lifetime scholar. He always advocated the expansion of autonomous private high schools, the opening of the educational market and diversification of the college student selection process.
He even criticized the Roh administration, saying both elitism and equality had died because of standardized education policies. He would have been a more celebrated scholar if he had not served in this public position.
Kim Doh-yeon was generally known to have been appointed because another promising candidate was rejected. Aside from having served as dean of the Engineering College at Seoul National University, he has no special experience in education.
At the appointment hearing a few days ago, Kim said, “President Lee personally called me and offered the position, but I initially turned it down because I thought I was not capable enough.” However, he took the job because the president insisted and encouraged him.
The two ministers started out differently. In the last days of the Roh administration, Kim Shin-il was still taking orders from the Blue House and clinging to the standardization policies. In effect, he exchanged his lifelong reputation for the post of minister, which he held for 16 months.
Bureaucrats were largely responsible for the fiasco. They insisted the College Scholastic Ability Test grade levels could not be changed and blamed the specialized high schools for encouraging excessive private education. Also, they asserted that the colleges should put a 50 percent weight on high school grades.
In contrast, Kim Doh-yeon is the first minister of a powerful administration. His beliefs are in tune with the policy direction of the new administration, such as abolishing the CSAT grade levels, giving colleges the right to decide how much weight to give high school grades, reinforcing English education in public schools, school diversification and reform in the teaching profession. At least, the environment is prepared for him to pursue his convictions.
However, considerable difficulties are ahead of him in leading the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. He needs to replace the bureaucratic officials and manage controversial education and science issues. He also needs to take care of the opposition to the teachers union, which has vowed to protest the educational policies of the new administration. The issue of new law schools has already gone to court. He should also deal with English education reform, transfer the affairs of elementary and middle schools to local governments and manage the civil servants following a ministerial reorganization.
More importantly, he should pursue a healthy policy tune-up with the Blue House. Presently, Senior Secretary for Education, Science and Culture Lee Ju-ho is taking the lead in educational policy. He said, “I am tired of the college admission system which changes with the ministers and administrations. In order to relieve the pain associated with college admissions, the decision needs to be left to the colleges and different schools need to be created.” He drafted the framework of the education policy based on his 2006 publication, “Diversification Beyond Standardi-zation.”
Blue House Secretary Lee is reportedly influencing the promotions and appointments in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. There is a rumor he will take care of education while Minister Kim is in charge of science.
Some point out that Kim is even more prone to be swayed by the Blue House than his predecessor. The 189-centimeter (6-foot-2) Kim joked that he must have been chosen because he was tall and could look further. That is true indeed. You have to have an eye for the distant future when it comes to education. Kim should not be a yes-man to the Blue House when his mistakes can cause 100 years of damage. He needs to express his views without apologizing and correct unreasonable policies pushed by the Blue House.
If you seek a quick outcome, you are bound to fail in education. And the damage will be transferred to the students and their parents. Blindly following the direction of the Blue House would be a tragedy not just for Kim, but also for all of the citizens.
*The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yang Young-yu