Korean education needs an overhaulThe Special Session on Korean Education was held at Songdo Convensia Convention Center on May 20. It began with a photo slide showing postwar devastation. The hundreds of people in attendance went solemn. Soon, the slide was replaced by the nightscape of modern Seoul, skyscrapers lining the banks of the Han River. The hall was filled with applause. The two photos showed how Korea has developed in six decades. President of Korea Educational Development Institute Baek Sun-geun said, “The growth could be accomplished through education.”
Korean education was the star of the 90-minute-long session. However, the reality of schooling in this nation does not allow us to rejoice. U.S. President Barack Obama has openly praised the educational enthusiasm of Korea a number of times, but many Koreans feel uncomfortable about this. We are aware of the dark shadow behind the enthusiasm. The suicide rate of young people in Korea is substantially higher than the OECD average. In the Program for International Student Assessment, Korea students rank high in academic achievement but fare badly in academic interest and self-confidence. To middle school students and parents, the standard of success is getting admitted to independent private high schools or science high schools. High school students obsess over college admission, and college students are busy building their resumes. We all know creativity is important, but teachers still feed students answers in classrooms, where no experimentation is allowed. UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education Kishore Singh was surprised to learn about the situation in Korea and said schools need to be as welcoming as homes in order to provide a happy, educational environment to students. An educator attending the event said the agonizing situation is a unique characteristic of Korean education and that it should be addressed seriously in the special session.
By the end of the session, 32-year-old education activist Mun A-young raised his hand to comment.
“It is ridiculous to present such self-praise after spending taxpayers’ money and gathering hundreds of people,” said Mun. “How can we discuss the future without addressing the grim reality where college students graduate with debt to pay for tuition?” Many people clapped in support. The grand World Education Forum ended on May 21, setting an objective of providing quality education and lifelong learning opportunities to everyone by 2030. At the same time, the relay of praise for Korean education has ended. Now, we need to face its problems and reality.
The author is a national news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 22, Page 33
by NO JIN-HO