Education policy inconsistent

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Education policy inconsistent

The government education policies centered on fostering school independence and competition are staring into an abyss. Officials have displayed remarkable inconsistency when it comes to those two principles.

In his retirement speech, Sogang University President Sohn Byung-doo lamented that the government “has veered from independence and competition in education policy to restriction and control.” The comment should not be taken lightly, particularly since Sohn is the head of the Korea Council for University Education, which spearheads restructuring efforts for higher education.

The government’s measures to address private education costs directly contradict the ideas of independence and competition.

Sure, easing private education expenses in an economic downturn is of course called for and necessary. But the government’s steps to actively discourage private education often go against its overall goals. For example, the government established guidelines calling for international middle schools and private elite high schools to select students by randomly drawing lots instead of screening them by academic standards. The government, blinded by its aim to dampen private tutoring, invaded individual school rights to select students according to their own methods and standards. To upgrade educational quality, diversity and selectiveness among schools must be respected. Therefore, it goes without saying that schools should be given the freedom to choose their own students.

After President Lee Myung-bak took particular interest in slashing private education expenses, the ruling party has been introducing worrisome and premature measures. One suggests that high school academic performance be evaluated on absolute criteria rather than on a relative basis. The idea behind the measure is to ease reliance on private tutoring. At the same time, however, it could tempt schools to tamper with test results. Another potential measure involves recommending that universities reduce the number of subjects included in entrance exams. This idea also needs careful consideration, as it could undermine educational quality and foster negligence in other subjects.

The government must nip the private education problem in the bud. But it should do so with more discretion so as not to exacerbate the problems facing public school education. To meet its campaign promise of “doubling satisfaction in school education and halving private education costs,” it should first allow schools to operate freely. Satisfaction in public schools will naturally lead students away from private tutoring. The government needs to see the bigger picture rather than focus on immediate, short-term results.
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