[Letters] No more meaningless chase

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[Letters] No more meaningless chase

After chasing its tail for hours, an exhausted dog finally resorts to burning its tail. We call this dog foolish, because first, it can never bite its tail, and second, burning is not the solution.

The government has been chasing foreign language high schools for years. Blaming the schools for high private education costs, it has tried to limit their freedom when selecting students. It banned math tests, it imposed region limits, it raised the relative importance of school grades, it banned English reading tests and nowadays it is trying to ban the listening test. After finding out that all these efforts do not have much effect, lawmakers are now resorting to abolishing the schools.

Many policies have been suggested based on apparent statistical data, such as the private education cost, but these are not the true solution. Lawmakers can never solve the issue without knowing the core of the problem. Specifically, the fundamental problem is the failure to analyze the actual students who apply for or go to the special schools.

First of all, how do changes in admissions policy affect the students? For example, if the importance of school grades increases, students who excel in school exams are more likely to pass. Then the students very talented in language have a lower chance, for they probably cannot spend as much time on school study as the previous group. This actually contradicts many critics’ claim that the foreign language high schools must focus more on foreign language education. Moreover, more students go to hagwon to score high on exams, which mostly require mechanical memorization. Emphasizing school grades is actually not educational unless students learn meaningful things at school.

Making admissions tests easier also worsens the problem. If the English test becomes as easy as the normal middle school level, as the government wants, the test no longer examines a student’s English ability but how few mistakes he makes. Thus, in order to score high, students must mechanically practice solving questions to minimize making mistakes, rather than improving their actual ability. In fact, hagwon are professionals in forcing mechanical practices on students. Easier tests do not result in less reliance on private education. It simply makes the students waste their time on meaningless testing tactics.

Second, why do students choose the special schools? They go there not for the sake of going itself, but for the high-quality education they believe is essential. They expect that such education will give them distinction and advantage in the future. This desire for better education than public schools always exists. Therefore, even if foreign language high schools are abolished, students will still try to win distinction over others by receiving a better education. They will just find other institutions to raise their competitiveness. The result is either higher demand for high-quality private education, or higher competition for other specialized high schools. Indeed, this is not the solution.

If it is impossible to ever catch its tail, the dog must look around and seek a new solution. In essence, there are two solutions to bring down the cost of private education. One is by suppressing elite schools, which adds diversity to standardized education. In fact, it takes just one look at the actual students to realize how this solution is ineffective and not educational. However, the other is boosting up both elite and public education. Although this takes more time, this is the fundamental solution. Now anybody knows what a wise dog would do.

Lee Ji-won,

Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies student
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