Improve public schools nowEven as the economy teeters, Korean parents refuse to scale back spending on private instruction. In a survey released recently by the National Statistical Office, the country last year saw its first-ever simultaneous contraction in household income and consumption since the office started compiling such data.
Spending in private education, however, rose 4.3 percent from a year ago. The data clearly shows that Korean parents were saving and cutting down on everything except their children’s education.
Moreover, polarization in private education has gotten worse alongside the staggering economy. A survey by the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training also confirmed that students attending private elite high schools specializing in languages, arts and science, who generally come from well-off families, depend more on private tutoring than students attending ordinary high schools. If private instruction makes such a big difference and depends on parents’ financial resources, while the quality of public schooling remains generally poor, the outcome is foreseeable.
Those privileged with access to superior private education will have better a chance at landing good grades in college entrance exams, getting into respectable colleges and nabbing solid jobs.
As long as there is an evident gap in spending on private education, the legacy of poverty will continue. Improving public schooling is the only hope to end this vicious cycle.
We can benchmark the Knowledge is Power Program, a nationwide network of open-enrollment college-preparatory public schools in relatively poor communities in the United States. Teachers in KIPP charter schools teach under the belief that with rigorous teaching and more time in school, any student can succeed at top high schools and colleges. As result, some 80 percent of KIPP school students from underserved African?American or Latino backgrounds succeed in making it to college.
A secondary girls’ school in Seoul recently declared it will voluntarily stop private tutoring to support public school education. But without financial support, public schooling cannot improve. The government needs to be the driving force behind the campaign to save and restore public schooling. If public schools can provide solid education, underprivileged students won’t have any reason to envy expensive tutoring. There is no better welfare policy than offering equal educational opportunities.