What’s going on in our schools?

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What’s going on in our schools?

The solo and wayward ways of liberal education Superintendent Kwak No-hyun of the Seoul Office of Education is raising eyebrows. The new superintendent clashed with the Ministry Education, Science and Technology over academic assessments and teachers’ evaluation.

He banned corporal punishment in all schools in Seoul, bringing near-chaos to classrooms. He then said he plans to liberalize hair and dress codes as well as scrapping quarterly exams at elementary and secondary schools. All his remarks and plans are but half-baked personal opinions that have failed to be publicly debated.

It is no wonder he is scorned for experimenting with his educational ideas on students.

Education is a minefield of conflicting interests. No policy can satisfy all, even if it runs through various tests and reviews. A policy that neglects the opinions of students, parents and teachers, and is never tested for feasibility in the classroom, can hardly work.

The ban on corporal punishment has proven disastrous. Since teachers have no suitable alternative to discipline students, the result is reckless classroom behavior. The Education Ministry tried to interfere by suggesting suspensions and nonphysical disciplinary measures, but schools cannot decide which guidelines to follow. In a recent survey, nearly all teachers said they fear that controlling students will become more difficult next year.

The Seoul Education Office also said they will penalize schools that enforce after-school programs. Its position runs counter to the Education Ministry, which rewards schools that promote and excel in after-school programs. It is unclear why Superintendent Kwak wants to prevent students enjoying affordable after-school programs at public schools in place of costly private institutions.

Easing restrictions on hairstyles and dress codes in secondary schools is an issue that should not be dealt with lightly. The liberalization of dress codes that took place in 1983 was withdrawn after just two years because of an increase in juvenile delinquencies. Some 67 percent of teachers and 57 percent of parents oppose such liberalization.

Abolition of quarterly exams will also undermine learning standards and fairness in academic assessments. All these measures demand public hearings and debate.

The superintendent must keep in mind that it is the students who pay the price for poor policy making.
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