It’s time to change
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.
In its 2015 economic policy plan, the government said it will review a plan to start the academic year in September. Although the recommendation was made in 1997 by the Education Reform Committee, it was never introduced. The Korea Educational Development Institute also studied the plan in 2006 and 2007, but concluded that an immediate change was inappropriate due to the hefty social costs involved. The Park Geun-hye administration, however, said it will review the plan once again.
This is not a simple matter because it is an important change that will reshape Korea’s education system. When the academic year starts in September, students will enter schools on different dates and that will affect the supply of teachers, selection of students, education process and eventually the job market.
Therefore, it is important to first understand why we need to consider the change and what must be taken into account in a discussion on the matter.
The change is necessary for the compatibility of Korea’s education system with the international system. Expect for Japan, which starts its academic year in April, most countries start their academic year in September. When a Korean student enters a school abroad, or when a foreign student registers for a Korean school, a six-month gap is created. This hinders human resources exchanges.
The number of foreign students in Korean universities increased from 16,000 in 2004 to 86,000 in 2014, up by 5.4 times over the past decade. Mostly, the students are from Asian countries like China and Japan.
In order to encourage more students and professors from other countries to come to Korea, it is necessary for Korea to change its academic calendar.
Another reason is that the current academic calendar is run ineffectively. After the College Scholastic Ability Test, schools have a hard time keeping students engaged. Spring vacations are given in February. Most advanced countries that start the academic year in September allow a longer summer vacation to allow students to have more outdoor activities.
In Korea, the cost of heating during the winter has become cheaper than air-conditioning in the summer due to climate change. Giving a longer summer vacation and shortening the winter vacation will be more efficient.
By advancing the school year by six months, the graduates will enter the job market earlier.
And yet, any adjustment in the school year must be decided by listening to parents’ opinions and thoroughly analyzing the economic effects.
The low birthrate can be an argument for changing the academic calendar. In 1995, the change would have affected about 650,000 students, but after 2010, the number went down to 450,000. Now is the best time to think about this change.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor of Hyupsung University’s Graduate School of Education.