Education is not economics
The government recently said it will reform the current academic system, including a plan to introduce a new system to start the academic year in September, and public opinion on the issue is divided. Since 1997, the government has proposed the same change several times, but it failed to follow through due to objections. Many have argued that most advanced countries around the world start their academic years in September and, in a globalized world and time, Korea should join them.
The government said it will think about starting the academic year in September as part of its economic projects for 2015. The intention is to heighten the Korean education system’s comparability with global standards in order to boost exchanges and to improve the efficiency of school operations.
It is, however, not easy to make the change since the current academic calendar that starts the year in March has been maintained for 54 years. It is linked to college admissions as well as job searches and military service. Starting the academic year in September is not simply an education issue. It is a profound matter that will change the entire timetable of Korea.
First, the government must remember why the Kim Jong-sam and Roh Moo-hyun administrations failed to make such a change. They failed because their plans didn’t convince the people that they would be worth the enormous social costs.
Second, it is an education issue, not an economic issue. We cannot approach this issue simply as an attempt to attract more foreign students in Korea or to produce a more economically active population. We also need an accurate estimate as to whether foreign students will actually increase in Korea after the change, or whether more Korean students will leave the country to study abroad. The government must remember that education policies that had their bases in economic reasoning all failed in the past.
Third, research must be conducted in advance to study the effects of such a change. According to research in 2008 by the Korea Educational Development Institute, the cost to make such a change will be 23 trillion won ($21.3 billion). Issues such as increasing the number of classrooms and teachers for the change, inconsistency in the government fiscal calendar and academic year, and the effect on competition for graduates of a certain year will also take place.
In other countries, the government’s fiscal year starts in October, so starting the academic calendar in September does not matter. But our situation is different.
In the 1990s, the Kim Dae-jung government conducted an “open education” policy by removing the fences around schools and opening up the doors of classrooms. But many ill effects were revealed and large amounts of money were wasted to reverse the changes.
While policies that changed school spaces were an obsession of the past, changes to the educational timetable, such as changing the academic calendar, school hours and semesters, have become our new obsession.
Changes require a national consensus. The government must start a study on the policy’s effectiveness and collect public opinions for the country’s future.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor at Seoul National University of Education and head of the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association.
by Ahn Yang-ok