[Viewpoint] There is fairness in diversity

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[Viewpoint] There is fairness in diversity

Crowded streets of Hanoi and Hai Phong in northern Vietnam are lined with rows of long and thin houses.

Just four meters wide and usually four or five stories high, the houses are referred to as “tubes” in Vietnam because of their rectangular shape. Foreign tourists amusingly find their resemblance to bookshelves and some say they are as thin as knives.

After the communists from North Vietnam consolidated the South, they implemented sweeping land reform, or nationalization and redistribution of property. When everyone sought after land facing the streets, the communist government chose to carve out four meters of land so that the popular, street-facing section could go to as many people as possible. The tubes are one of the by-products of communism’s quest for social equality.

If rents were based according to market principles and land around the streets cost more, some would have wanted to seek bigger and less-expensive housing a little farther off the streets, helping to create more even demand.

On signs of demand, developers would have shifted interest to land farther away from the downtown and developed those areas. Maybe then fewer may have been confined to the long rows of matchbox-like houses along the narrow streets. The opening of capitalist markets has gradually erased many aspects of socialist economic practices in Vietnam, but the rectangular residential boxes will likely live on as tourist attractions of an antiquated system.

At the inception of its industrialization in the 1960s, Seoul suddenly saw a colony of low-story apartments spring up along its hills. The cement residential buildings were then offered to low-income residents at affordable prices. They, however, collapsed a couple of years later.

Sophisticated economies like Europe also had silly systems to restrain unbalanced wealth. Taxes were levied according to the number of windows in a dwelling. The Dutch imposed taxes according to the width of the front facade, which served to create thin and tall houses along the canals of Amsterdam. The world’s thinnest house of one-meter width can be seen during a boat ride along the canals. But these connected houses of different blocks have now become part of the city’s rich cultural heritage.

Life in essence is unfair. The market has a role to iron out the disparities according to individual capacity and demand. No one will be happy if they are forced to live in a four-meter flat when they desire more space. If their wealth allows, they must have the choice to live in a bigger home. They can move away from the city in search of a cheaper value or tolerate higher living costs to live among the bustling streets.

The law of uniformity of Vietnam’s tube houses hangs over our education system. Schools teach based on the same textbooks. Those excelling in standardized tests are able to get into good universities. Those who lag behind get ignored. Students, like adults wishing to live in different kinds of houses, also can desire a different kinds of education.

That they lag behind in math and language doesn’t mean they dislike learning altogether. If their desires are suppressed, they may surface in negative forms. Students at the front and back should have equal opportunity to pursue what they like. This is what fairness is really all about.

Education is about teaching and nurturing. Not everyone can skate like Kim Yun-a or play golf like Shin Ji-yai. They must undergo the right training and courses that promote skills and talent. In the competitive globalized world, one cannot survive without incessant change and effort. Our resources are our young people. We must develop an educational system that can teach and train them as competitive players.


*The writer is the chairman of the board of directors at the Chung-Ang University Foundation. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Yong-sung
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