A hurdle for public education

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A hurdle for public education


Kim Hye-nam

An education policy regardless of its good intentions cannot work if it is not realistic. Under the current competitive system to get into a good college, any policy designed to lessen study burdens households and investing in private education cannot be convincing for students or parents. Accelerated learning - where most students are forced to study one to three years ahead of what they learn in the classroom - could be curbed when prohibited by law. But with the current highly competitive college entry system, how should the students, parents, schools and teachers react to this sudden enforced ban and at the same time prepare their students for college?

The previous administration’s policy to differentiate teaching and tests in general and advanced courses for English, Korean and math was reversed for English. The National English Ability Test, which was designed to replace the English state college exam, also has long been tossed away. Governments experiment with new policies and discard them when they don’t work out without holding anyone accountable. No one apologizes to the students who repeatedly serve as guinea pigs.

Unlike private liberal-curriculum and special-purpose high schools, public high schools must run their syllabi according to state guidelines. Private schools could continue accelerating courses for students even under the ban and could complete the entire three-year high school program early. But when public high schools are prohibited by law from getting ahead in their programs, senior students will have less time to spend preparing for their college exams in the classroom with practical mock tests.

The Ministry of Education slightly bent the law and decided to allow the senior class to complete second-semester courses during the first semester. But by doing so, the education authority has demonstrated the fundamental flaws in our education system - uncoordinated and inconsistent policy that condone breaching laws out of convenience. A law is of no use if it is applied to one group and not to the another on the same subject of entering college. It only deepens the education gap and can trigger bigger social conflicts.

Public schools have endeavored to improve academic standards and competitiveness of their students against many odds. They run intensive after-school programs to meet the needs of proactive students and send more students to elite universities.

But if they are prohibited from offering intensive and advanced classes, higher-level and motivated students will be stripped of any opportunity to challenge themselves. Middle- or lower-level students would also have more difficulty in catching up if their entire third-year course is squeezed into one semester.

If public schools no longer provide intensive and advanced classes, students who worry about falling behind and having less time to prepare for the state exam will turn to private cram institutions and tutoring. The ban will only weaken the competitiveness of public schools and increase the demand for private education. The new regulation hurts public education but leaves the private sector intact or even stronger.

The problem is that there are many students who are bright but cannot afford to receive private tutoring or expensive teaching assistance outside of schools. Through intensive programs, public schools help students from less wealthy families get the necessary attention to get into decent universities. But they won’t be able to receive the same education if the ban prevents advanced and intensive courses.

Universities reserve some placements for new students based on their school performance. Public high school students have an advantage over their peers from private elite schools where many students are academically advanced. But if school tests become easy because they are required to be based on textbooks and classroom syllabi, few will make it into college because many will be able to do well on the test. If school grades cannot differentiate students with high academic aptitude, fewer students from public schools will be able to enter elite universities. Bright students won’t be able to stand out as before. Our Constitution stipulates that people have the right to receive education according to their capacity. The new law is a serious violation of our students’ rights. The ban will not save public education, but kill it.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 23, Page 26

*The author is a teacher at Moonil High School.

By Kim Hye-nam

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