[Viewpoint]After beef comes education

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[Viewpoint]After beef comes education

As the controversy over U.S. beef imports continues, the most frequently mentioned word these days is “communication.” This best describes the cause of friction between the government and the citizens when politicians neglect or do not know the wishes and interests of the people.

President Lee Myung-bak, who is learning the consequences of a lack of communication the hard way, is repeatedly emphasizing a pledge to “serve the citizens.” The grand lesson of the crisis is that a government policy that does not reflect national sentiment produces a tremendous negative reaction.

The same goes for educational policies. The Lee Myung-bak administration garnered national support by promising to “double satisfaction with public education and halve spending on private education,” but his educational policy is facing a great trial.

Beginning with English immersion, the government has been throwing out and pursuing various policy issues without properly reflecting educational reality and public opinion, and citizens are increasingly concerned about chaos in schools.

Once the beef crisis is resolved, education will be the next national hot potato. For the last decade, the education policy has failed to fulfill diverse learning needs and secure educational competitiveness because of an excessive focus on equal treatment of students and government involvement.

The basic direction of the Lee administration’s educational policy to enhance education through autonomy and competition certainly has many positive aspects, but the particulars reveal many problems.

The government gave schools autonomy through the April 15 measure, allowed colleges to determine their own admission systems and reformed regional boards of education. These actions and many others have valid policy objectives, yet they have created discord as the government neglected to include public opinion and reflect reality at schools.

As education policy affects all citizens including students, parents and teachers, it is best to listen to public opinion fully and accommodate reality.

When schools cannot afford to live up to government policy, the objectives are lost and schools are burdened.

Since the policy has the right direction but a flawed execution, we conclude that education policy should be drafted and pursued systematically.

The Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association, the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union and members of education committees around the country are demanding that the senior Blue House secretary for education, science and technology be replaced.

Their demand originates from the idea that educational policy should not be drafted and pursued by an individual official but should be created and implemented through an appropriate system.

According to a survey, over 73 percent of current teachers say that the Blue House is responsible for causing confusion in educational policy. When the Blue House is involved in every detail of the policy, the ministry and agencies in charge of education are deprived of their roles and responsibilities and limited to only executing policy.

President Lee is expected to announce an official reshuffle and government reform measures to show his determination to communicate. When he does, it should include a redefinition of the roles of the Blue House and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

The government needs to provide a stable system where the Ministry of Education takes a central role in preparing, presenting and implementing education policies by reflecting reality in classrooms and public opinion.

Voters made Lee president with the expectation of educational and economic revival. As the Korean economy is struggling with soaring prices, the administration must not add educational issues to the burden.

The president needs to identify what policies failed to meet citizens’ expectations and send a clear message to students, parents and teachers in the form of a reform measure, with a drastic reshuffle of officials and a system overhaul. Moreover, it takes time to see the effects of educational policy, so the president and the government need to quit pursuing short term visible outcomes and adopt a more farsighted approach.

*The writer is a professor of social studies education at Kangwon National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kang Yong-ok
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