[Viewpoint] Inconvenient truths about schools

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[Viewpoint] Inconvenient truths about schools

It is not as easy as one would think to face the truth, especially when it comes to an uncomfortable truth that people do not want to acknowledge.

This is probably how the Democratic Party and the two umbrella trade unions, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, feel about the irregular workers’ protection law.

The reality hidden behind the great cause of protecting irregular workers is a pitiable scene where many irregular workers lose their jobs and are driven out to the streets because of that very law.

The moment this uncomfortable truth is acknowledged, the arguments of the opposition and the unions will crumble. However, acknowledging this uncomfortable truth is the starting point of finding a solution to the problem.

There is an uncomfortable truth about Korean education, too. Everybody knows it, but nobody publicly speaks of it. The truth is that Korean school education is nothing but a process for preparing for university entrance. Frankly speaking, this is not news.

If someone makes a remark along this line, however, it would immediately provoke a fit of rage from education authorities and school teachers. The Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, which emphasizes “true education,” would react even more angrily, demanding to know how people could belittle sacred school education as mere university entrance preparation. This attitude comes from a deeply rooted perception in our society that schools should not be a place for students to prepare for university, but a place for building personality and acquiring knowledge. They should not be a facility merely for getting to the next stage; the belief is that there is a higher calling.

However, the reality is totally different. Let’s put aside, for a moment, the aim of education according to the law and think about the reason we send our children to school.

Education up to middle school is mandatory, but it is probably true to say that most students advance to high school because they want a crack at university. Considering that 84 percent of high school graduates go to university, it is illogical to think that school education should be separated from the university entrance examination. No matter that we do not want to recognize this, the two cannot be separated from each other.

If schools focus on nurturing well-rounded people and the examination process, we should forget about eradicating private education in our society. The moment public educational institutes decide to evade university entrance, private educational institutes, or hagwon, will start to prosper.

People say public education should be strengthened, but they act as if they do not know the truth that the key point of bolstering public education is strengthening education for university entrance examination. They do not acknowledge this uncomfortable truth because they are prejudiced that education aimed at producing well-rounded people is “good” and education focused on university entrance is “bad.”

But the idea of “schools without private education,” which is the big issue these days, ultimately aims to provide proper preparation for university entrance, right?

Isn’t it true that people do whatever they can to send their children to special purpose high schools because such schools provide better chances for their children to get a place at university?

It does not make sense to say schools provide after-school classes to help reduce private education fees. If schools can provide hagwon-style education for university entrance after school, why can’t they provide it during regular school classes?

If the fact that high school is in fact a preparatory organ for university is uncomfortable, it would be better to take comfort that this is the case in other countries, too.

There are long lines of students waiting to enter prestigious private schools that send many of their students to highly regarded universities in the United States and Britain. These schools are even called university preparatory schools.

In France, prestigious high schools operate separate preparatory programs for students who plan to enter the grandes ecoles, elite graduate schools that require separate written and oral exams. In Japan, high schools are evaluated on the number of students who enter prestigious universities. In China, the zeal to enter prestigious universities is beyond imagination. I have never heard of someone turning a blind eye to education for university entrance in these countries.

There is one thing people misunderstand about education for university entrance: the claim that it decreases creativity of students because it uses cramming techniques. However, there is no need to use the cramming method in education for university entrance, and cramming education is not always bad, either.

In fact, cramming is sometimes effective for improving scholastic ability. There is no evidence that students who gave up university entrance education at school and studied at hagwon to go to university are more creative than students who received so-called cramming education in the past.

They say everyone is an expert on matters related to education. So it’s no wonder education is such a difficult matter to deal with.

However, there is no solution if we avoid the truth. It is now time to face reality, even if it is uncomfortable to do so. If schools do not recognize the need for university entrance education, Korea is unlikely to solve its education problems in the near future.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jong-soo
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