Schools take controlThe government’s April 15 measure to give schools autonomy is a new opportunity to improve education in Korea. We now have the chance to carry out reforms in education by allowing schools in different areas to compete against each other.
The problem is that it won’t be easy to induce schools to change their systems. Many don’t know what to do; getting full autonomy might have come faster than some school thought. Also, local government education offices undertook studies on how to manage schools, but they are not well prepared, either.
The education offices and schools must now work together to establish a new system as soon as possible. Schools are not objects for experiments, after all. Each school must put students first and implement curricula that will benefit students the most. The most important reason for giving autonomy to schools is to provide the best possible education to students.
The central government has given local education offices the authority to oversee schools in their districts, but the local offices must not rule over schools as supervisors. Instead, local offices must ensure that schools have autonomy and provide support.
In addition, local offices have to help build networks among schools that have know-how on school management, such as Nonsan-Daegeon Senior High School or Seo Girls’ High School in Busan. Other schools will follow their lead.
The central government must not become complacent now that it has handed off its duties to local education offices and schools. The central government is still duty-bound to support underprivileged schools and students in farming and fishing villages and poor districts in urban areas.
State-owned research institutes, such as the Korea Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation and the Korean Educational Development Institute, can identify examples of successful schools and help publish guidelines or organize consultations on how to run schools.
The purpose of giving schools autonomy is to create greater diversity in education. From now on schools don’t need to have standardized curricula and can offer choices. But new curricula must be drawn according to students’ demand, not according to the arbitrary and unilateral decisions of the head of the school. This is why schools that have autonomy must be kept in check and monitored through school evaluations. Autonomy and responsibilities come hand-in-hand.