[Viewpoint]Catching two rabbits at once

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[Viewpoint]Catching two rabbits at once

Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration will take place in one month, and the world is watching to see how his policies unfold.

The Democratic Party normally practices activist government, becoming involved in as many ways as possible to create a socially and economically healthy United States. In contrast, the Republican Party believes the government should perform small but critical roles.

The United States has extremely different policies and the government plays varying roles depending on which party takes control. Therefore, Obama will probably follow the Democratic Party’s traditional line.

But his education policy - what has been revealed so far - clearly shows he has his own identity.

Taking into account his remarks and policies announced so far, three principles will form the basis of the Obama administration’s education policy.

First, Obama will promote the active role of government based on equal opportunity and community, in contrast to the Bush administration’s policy of introducing market principles into education to strengthen public schools through competition. Obama has been promoting reforms to the existing No Child Left Behind law.

Second, the Obama administration will concentrate investment in infant and early childhood education. Obama believes that a person’s childhood and background must never be an obstacle for growth, and education must play the role of a mediator.

In order to reinforce early childhood education, Obama plans to establish a Presidential Early Learning Council.

Third, the Obama administration will likely expand opportunities in higher education.

He has promoted scholarships to support college education for students from low-income families. He has also promised the government’s financial support, such as tax cuts, to offset the cost of tuition for families.

Such principles are directly linked to Obama’s education philosophy. He has emphasized the importance of equality by linking public education to the American dream. Obama has argued that talented youths should be educated regardless of wealth, family connections and other factors.

This does not mean that Obama will downplay the importance of competition. He probably values it more than others. Obama has an understanding that competitive education is the key to breaking through the crisis that America faces.

He has argued for introducing a performance review system for teachers in order to raise the quality of the nation’s education staff.

He will introduce an incentives system, based on competition, so that talented teachers will receive higher salaries. He also plans to provide more support for extraordinary school leaders. Such plans are based on his intention to upgrade the quality of education through competition and teacher compensation.

Obama will make math and science the country’s top priorities to improve national abilities in these fields and upgrade the capabilities of the United States to the next level.

Obama’s education policy may appear to focus on welfare and equality, but at its base, it is focused on heightening the competitive power of U.S. education.

Obama is trying to catch two rabbits at once by improving the quality of education and promoting fair opportunity simultaneously.

Korea’s education ministry tends to focus on the market by limiting the roles of the ministry while delegating more power to regional educational authorities.

In contrast, Obama has emphasized the state’s role and promotes improving the academic abilities of students in general.

His plans for high school education and a performance-based evaluation system for teachers is similar to Korea’s.

Obama is planning to increase the $59 billion U.S. education budget by $18 billion. He thinks a lack of funding has hindered education’s competitiveness and led to failure to educate society’s underdogs.

With a bigger budget, will Obama be able to simultaneously improve competitiveness and expand opportunities?

We must watch the United States’ education policies and outcomes carefully, because the hunt for two rabbits is also important in Korea.

*The writer is a senior researcher at the Korean Educational Development Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Gu Ja-oek
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