[Viewpoint] Reforming the wrong target

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[Viewpoint] Reforming the wrong target

In 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau advocated a modern theory of education in his book, “Emile: or, On Education.”

“Neither poverty, nor business, nor fear of the world, can excuse him from the duty of supporting and educating his own children. Reader, believe me when I predict that whoever has a heart and neglects such sacred duties will long shed bitter tears over his mistake, and will never find consolation for it,” he wrote. The book met with a tremendous response. High-born women who had infants wet-nursed felt guilty and began breast-feeding their own babies. Emile became an educational bible for parents. However, Rousseau himself was in no position to give advice on parenting and education. He had five children with a seamstress, but they gave up the newborns to orphanages. How can a man who had abandoned his own tell other people how to raise their children?

Such a contradiction is the reality. Not much has changed since the time of Rousseau. The philosopher abandoned his babies in the 18th century, but people today fret about teaching more and more. We advocate “standardized education,” but we want our kids to go to a specialized foreign language high school. We condemn private after-school education, but we make sure our kids are taught by the best tutors. That’s why the controversy among government agencies over educational reform seems ludicrous and pathetic.

There is no reason the Ministry of Education should feel sorry that it has been excluded in the policy-making process. After all, the Education Ministry has never showed any will to resolve the problem. Some even say it should be abolished.

The reform committee volunteered to deal with the issue out of the sense that it would take forever for education officials to conclude their discussion and solve the crisis. Nevertheless, we are not fully convinced by the committee’s solution because we cannot help feeling that the order of business has been reversed.

What users of education say and do are different because sollen, German for what ought to be, is different from sein, German for what is. In theory, if you do your best under the school curriculum, you should be able to get into the college of your choice. However, that’s not the case in reality. There exist private education options of better quality than public education, and when you depend on private educational options, you compete to find the best and most competent instructor. Consequently, private education expenses threaten household finances.

It is no news that we need a solution. Yet the prescription of banning private education institutes from having classes after 10 p.m. is disappointing. Even if the regulation is suddenly proved effective and private education institutes become too stupid to come up with countermeasures, that is no solution for the students who are relying on these academies to make up for what is lacking in public education.

High-end private education that offers quality instructional material based on research will be banned, leaving only less expensive private educational options that are little better than what is provided in public education.

I agree 100 percent with the committee chairman’s comment, “A lukewarm measure can never succeed.” I also support his desperate intent to resolve the education issue at the government level.

However, the committee is aiming in the wrong direction. What the committee needs to fight against are the school teachers, not the instructors at private academies. I mean that it is more urgent to enhance the competitiveness of public education. Then private educational institutes will fade away naturally. Capable and enthusiastic teachers should be compensated properly, and those who fail to meet standards should be weeded out. It is against economic theory to ban high-quality products in order to save cheap, low-quality goods.

This targeting error is due to the impatience of the Lee Myung-bak administration, which always likes quick results. It might be preparing a buffer to minimize the shock of restructuring. However, education is not an issue that can be resolved with the attitude of “securing the regime.” That means deceiving the parents who compromise their retirement savings and bet it all on their children’s education in order not to “shed bitter tears.” Their frustration and anger are growing. The administration needs to think again if it believes such a hasty measure will indeed secure the regime.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo

by Oh Byung-sang
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