[Viewpoint]School: an academic approach

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[Viewpoint]School: an academic approach

The dispute over establishing international middle schools in Seoul began in 2006 and finally ended this month with a decision to open the schools in March 2009. Seoul’s education committee narrowly approved the selection of the schools in a late-night meeting, but the seed of conflict still remains because some civic groups immediately filed a petition to the Constitutional Court to ban the opening of the international middle schools.

When the Busan International Middle School first opened in Korea in 1998, and the Cheongshim International Academy opened in Gyeonggi Province in 2006, the debate and conflict were not as serious as today. It is ironic that the debate is much more serious under the Lee Myung-bak administration, which emphasizes excellence and competitiveness in education, than under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, which focused on egalitarianism.

The Democratic Party, which was the governing party when the first two middle schools opened outside Seoul, is now opposing opening the schools in Seoul. How can we make sense of this situation?

Since the plan was formed two years ago to select two of the city’s 368 middle schools to become international middle schools, we have tasted more than enough bitter education conflict. Amid a flurry of opinions, both for and against the plan, parent worries grew. But no one assumed responsibility for their concerns.

Seoul is the nation’s capital and it has symbolic meaning. But the debate has still pushed our society into an unnecessarily deep swamp of educational conflict.

In terms of education, support and opposition to the plan seem meaningless. No teacher would teach young students that some arguments are absolutely right while others are absolutely wrong when it comes to a social issue. At least in the classroom, an issue of such deeply divided opinion would be addressed by students and teachers to identify the problem and determine how they can resolve it. Education focuses on the process.

It is key to understand the various perspectives about education in relation to international middle schools, and a teacher tries to make students understand society’s pluralism. The perspective that “my thinking is important, as is others’” should be taught. Such a perspective is necessary when resolving educational conflicts triggered by adult’s black-and-white logic over national education policy.

Starting in March, we will have two international middle schools in Seoul to lead us into the global era. There is no need to be overly emotional, but there is also no need to ignore the significance. A creative, specialized education program outside the restrictions and monitoring of the government has finally begun operating. People should pay attention to how Seoul’s international middle schools affect the nation’s elementary schools and what gains and losses they bring to the nation’s educational development.

Those opposing international middle schools said only students privileged enough to have economically capable parents can afford the tuitions, so the schools violate the constitution’s guarantee of equal educational opportunity. They also argued that research was not appropriately carried out before pushing forward the plan. They say public opinion was not heard.

They also pointed out in their constitutional petition that the grounds for establishing international middle schools are not stipulated in the nation’s laws governing elementary, middle and high school education.

The arguments should be judged by the Constitutional Court, but it must remember that the Busan International Middle School, a public school, and Cheongshim International Academy, a private school, established under the Kim and Roh administrations have operated for 10 and two years, respectively.

Korea’s education should not be hindered by arguments about international middle schools. The wasteful debate must end right now and we must heighten our educational competitiveness by improving public education and diversifying school systems. That is the least we can do to ease parents’ educational burden.

The education authorities must also pay close attention to the establishment and operation of international middle schools in order to minimize possible ill effects. It also needs to improve the admission system because critics say the current system can be compared to playing the lottery.

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

by Park Yong-jo
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