For the sake of the students

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For the sake of the students


Yoon Yoo-jin

The Ministry of Education’s new law to normalize public education and ban advanced study in classrooms has spurred controversy in the education field. Many question if the new regulation would be effective in reining in the cost of private education. They worry that public high schools would be greatly disadvantaged in preparing students for college compared with private schools that are relatively free from state curriculum.

But the order does not discriminate against public school students. The ban on teaching beyond the designated curriculum is universally imposed on all schools - private and public. Special-purpose and liberal-curriculum high schools are subject to annual evaluations to see if they abide by the state regulation. If any school ignores the regulation or deviates from the school’s original purpose, the local education superintendent has the authority to strip a school of its special school status. Liberal private schools will face stringent supervision and examinations on whether they stick to their syllabus in arranging curriculums and teaching starting this year.

All schools - both private and public - would face the same challenges from the new regulation. Teachers and students have long been used to reverse learning with most of the students already familiar with the concepts and topics from outside learning. The extra-curriculum learning comes from crams schools and tutoring that have been paining students and parents for years. According to national statistics data, about 44 percent of high school students take separate English lessons and 45.8 percent take math. Private lessons for math average 5.3 hours per week for public school students and 4.6 hours for English.

There are several factors that send students to seek private assistance in their learning. The state standardized college exam that students take in November in order to get into college covers a three-year high school program even though the semester doesn’t finish until February. The state exam is administered without regard for the pace of in school learning. If the state wants to ban advanced study, then it also should revise the scope of examination coverage. The Education Ministry added a clause to the regulation saying that high schools are free to choose their curriculum for the senior class.

Most high schools, including public schools, encourage students to get extra lessons. Math teachers have to complete two math textbooks for the second year as well as the two intensive textbooks reserved for the third year - all during sophomore year. Private schools are in a bigger hurry because they must finish all three years of studies during the first two years so that the final year will be committed fully to problem-solving and mock tests to make students competitive for the college exam. Students who naively follow the school’s curriculum cannot catch up to pace in test level and coverage. That is the biggest reason why many students give up math in the second year.

The current entrance exam system is also deeply flawed. Math, English and Korean are divided into A and advanced B level. (The categorized test no longer applies for English from this year.) Teachers believe it is better to sit for the easier A section to get a good score. A large number of students in math and science who should study in the B section because of their specialized field take the A section math test. Classroom learning naturally cannot be normal.

The burden on studies has spurred demand in institutional education. It is not just high school students that turn to private institutions or tutoring. According to the Korea Private Education Research Center, more than 70 percent of elementary, middle and high school students receive outside-school lessons on math and English to learn beyond the school syllabus.

The ban on learning beyond their grade and levels could be productive when parents change their mind-set on child education. Competition to learn ahead will worsen rivalry, anxiety, and independence for students and scar them for life. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child also pointed out that the hyper-competitive college entrance system in South Korea undermines the rights of Korean children and teenagers. We hope the new regulation can improve the study burden on our students.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 23, Page 26

*The author is a researcher at the Korea Private Education Research Center at Sungkyunkwan University.

By Yoon Yoo-jin

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