Lee cracks whip on education

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Lee cracks whip on education

President Lee Myung-bak plans to get his elbows dirty when it comes to education policy.

In his regular address on the Internet and radio, he said he will preside over a monthly education reform meeting to spur tangible changes for students, parents and teachers. He plans to solicit input from members of the education world and quickly address their concerns and desires.

It is unprecedented in Korea for a president to take the reins of education policy. The president’s personal involvement certainly could help add weight to the government’s steps to reform education. But how his no-nonsense style of leadership will work in the education system and whether he can effectively tackle its intricate problems are important questions.

Many of the government’s efforts in this area are peripheral or out of touch with the education field. The first reform meeting will primarily focus on the college admissions officer system.

President Lee thinks the best way to ease the skyrocketing costs of private tutoring and after-school cram classes is to bring in admissions officers to admit students into colleges based on their potential rather than their scores on state exams or the quality of their essays.

But skeptics question the fairness and objectivity of such an admissions system. They also fear that it will create a new market for private education focused on areas that appeal to admissions officers.

Universities and state think tanks also raise doubts about whether such a system is actually workable. Critics claim that the move represents an easy way to lower the amount of money families spend on private education, which comes at the expense of sovereignty and competition in the education field.

It’s understandable that the president wants to step up and solve these problems. He will sit down with educational authorities and politicians as well as representatives of student, parent and teacher groups to address one problem at a time.

But educational policies should not be pushed through quickly just because the president is at the helm. That could produce more harm than good.

The president can’t expect to accomplish everything he wants to during his term in areas like education, which require deep thought and long-term solutions. He must instead aim to provide soil suitable for the education environment to grow. Educational authorities also should shape up. They ought to be ashamed that the president has to do their jobs for them. If they fail to stand at the center of educational reform, their jobs will be at risk.
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