Improving public education

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Improving public education

The admissions process at special-purpose high schools is about to be dissected again as officials search for possible areas for reform.

The government and the ruling party are revisiting the idea as part of a broader plan to ease private tutoring expenses. Special-purpose high schools that guarantee entry to top colleges are extremely selective, fueling the frenzy for supplementary tutoring outside of elementary and middle schools.

But we have to wonder whether the nation’s dependence on private tutoring will suddenly decline just because science high schools no longer offer admission to the winners of science competitions and foreign language high schools get rid of interviews in the selection of new students.

Previous administrations have also tried to fight skyrocketing tutoring costs to no avail. The latest idea is no better.

Prohibiting education officials from giving extra points to students who earn the highest scores on state math and science tests and giving greater weight to academic performance at middle schools won’t suddenly eliminate the pressure of private tutoring. Students will be filtered back into tutoring and cram schools tailored to meet the revised enrollment standards. And how can the special-purpose high schools, which function to nurture select students with aptitudes for science and technology or foreign languages, discriminate against other students based on overall academic performance?

The solution for reducing private education costs lies in improving public education. To that end, the government is looking into allowing schools more autonomy over their operation, implementing teacher performance evaluations and providing tailored curricula and after-school activities. The plan lacks detail and needs more work; premature measures will only generate confusion.

First of all, the government is right to consider granting schools the freedom to set their own curricula to offer students a more diverse education. But it should be stern in setting the guidelines so as to prevent schools from turning into special-purpose schools. Its plan for evaluating teachers, currently pending at the National Assembly, won’t have any effect if it is carried out in its present form because it carries no threat to employment. Unqualified teachers cannot be singled out unless they are aware of possible consequences for their employment.

Plans to tailor school curricula to better meet the needs of students and allow students to select their own courses could indeed improve the quality of public education. But devices to fix an inadequate scoring system that pits students of different levels of ability against one another should be prepared along with improvement of the education infrastructure such as classrooms and teachers. To bring the after-school program to life, schools will need to offer incentives to the teachers doing extra work and get parents and the community to participate.

Attempts to improve public education require meticulous and coordinated action. We are anxious to see what the government will unveil in its final plan next week.
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