Education out of the shadows

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Education out of the shadows

The private tutoring industry has mushroomed for much of the last decade but there are signs that it may be winding down. Evidence to this effect can be found in the affluent neighborhoods in southern Seoul that serve as veritable hubs for cram schools. A dozen of the 43 buildings in one section of Daechi-dong, Gangnam, where cram schools and private academies abound carried “for rent” placards earlier this week. The facilities are dropping like flies due to a shortage of students.

The fall from grace of MegaStudy, which was listed on the Kosdaq market, underscores the surprising downturn in the industry. Its stock price, which peaked at 380,000 won ($330) a share in 2008, is now hovering at around 81,000 won. Its market capitalization has also plunged from 2 trillion won to 500 billion won.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology sees the emerging trend as a victory in its long-running battle against the shadowy education industry, and certainly the changes it imposed on the college admission system have contributed to the industry’s decline. The authorities have made the scholastic exam more dependent on textbooks issued by the state-run education broadcaster (EBS), while also encouraging diversification by granting colleges more authority in terms of choosing new students.

But the main reason for the industry’s decline is the falling number of students as a result of the low birth rate and economic slowdown, which has led many parents to cut back their spending on expensive private tutors.

Either way, students’ falling reliance on private education can be seen as a turn up for the books. It is both a relief for them, as it means fewer nights studying from the moment they awake until the moment they close their eyes at night, and for their parents, who can save on their monthly expenditures. To sustain the trend, however, the national education system needs to be continually upgraded.

The authorities should strive to raise the competitiveness and quality of local education through such measures like stepping up their reviews of teachers’ performances. The government and corporate sector should also join forces to hire more high school graduates to ease competition for university places. Moreover, the college entrance system needs to be diversified to escape the traditional dependence on cram schools, which implies that higher education is the preserve of the moneyed class.

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