Under the guise of innovation
The mention of “innovation” goes a long way at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. On Thursday, the Seoul Office of Education School Innovation Team presented a set of policies for the next year that is ambitiously titled the 2015 Seoul Innovative Education District Plan. Among the 25 districts in Seoul, 11 will be designated an Innovative Education District; 2 billion won ($1.82 million) will be provided to seven districts and 300 million won to four districts.
It sounds like a Christmas present for the underdeveloped elementary, middle and high schools with not even enough funds to fix a leaking toilet. If selected as an Innovative Education District, schools will be able to hire substitute teachers and receive funding for after-school programs and career and vocational training programs. Moreover, schools with extra classrooms can refurbish old spaces and reduce the seats per class to less than 25 students. Guro-gu was selected in 2012 during the tenure of former Superintendent Kwak No-hyun and received 1.78 billion won in funding last year. District head Lee Seong said that public libraries were built and more scholarships were provided, significantly improving the educational conditions in the district.
But the problem is that only the districts that fit the “purpose and intent of the Innovative Education District” will be eligible for such perks. The criteria include “universal educational welfare and the resolution of the education gap,” as well as “greater educational challenges with a stronger aim to promote the project.” So districts are drafting their project plans according to what the Office of Education requires. “We need to apply in order to get grants,” and “the office is urging districts to compete to follow its agenda when it promotes public education reform,” one district official said.
The districts that are not chosen will surely suffer. Those districts won’t get any funding and will have no means to reduce the number of students per class. The schools that get funding from the Office of Education can also keep the number of students under 25 per class.
The aim to resolve the education gap among districts is a great one. But it is detrimental to draw a line based on the concept of innovation defined by the Office of Education. Innovation is a conceptual value and should not be used to define education. It is based on the idea that existing education is outdated and too conservative. Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon explained that innovative education is “a creative educational path that has never been taken.” But the path that has never been taken may be a road we should avoid.
The author is a national news writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 26, Page 33
by KIM KI-HWAN