Symbiotic path to educationDiversification is the current administration’s signature idea for improving high school education. It endorsed various versions of high school models based on free curriculum, specialized vocational training and boarding schools, in addition to existing foreign language and science academies.
The initiative pursued by the Lee Myung-bak administration is aimed at providing diverse high school programs to avoid cookie-cutter education, and groom young talents capable of competing on the global stage. But the downside of the policy is that the top group of students are shunning ordinary high schools in order to obtain more elite schooling.
A recent survey by the JoongAng Ilbo and the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association found that 86 percent of teachers at ordinary high schools believe the standards at their schools are severely below average. Elite programs should be promoted to diversify and improve education standards, but should not come at the expense of poor schooling at public high schools. The entire public education system is at stake.
The authorities must seek a symbiotic path to encourage both ordinary public schools and elite private high schools. The government should step up policy, financial, and human resource support to reinforce the competitiveness of ordinary public high schools.
Students at ordinary schools differ greatly in their academic performance. But they cannot receive teaching appropriate to their levels because of a lack of classrooms and teachers.
The government should use its 120 billion won surplus, left over from high school subsidies after 50 public schools became autonomous private schools, to increase spending on public high schools.
The government also must grant ordinary high schools more freedom over their curriculum. Ordinary public schools should be capable of offering competitive programs in math, science, language, the arts and sports.
What will make the biggest difference, however, is the passion and effort of the teachers at these schools. Instead of complaining about the poor abilities of their students, they should be inspired to transform and strengthen them. The teachers at Baemoon High School provide more than 100 specialized after-school programs and even stay up until midnight to answer their students’ questions.
With more teachers like that, few students would opt to go to expensive private schools.