Competitiveness is keyAccording to the 2015 outline for revising the education curriculum introduced in a recent hearing, schoolwork would be reduced from 20 percent to 30 percent from current levels depending on the subject. Lessening of schoolwork has been considered every time the education curriculum came under review. The applications of revisions in 2007 and 2009 cut back school studies by about 20 percent. When the 2015 revision takes effect in 2017, students would be taught about 50 percent less in schools than 10 years ago. It’s no wonder educators are worried about academic capabilities of students.
Korea has advanced at a staggering pace largely thanks to an almost fanatical concentration on education. Parents sacrificed to give their children the best possible education so that they would have more than they had. Their children did their best to meet their parents’ ambitions. Education zeal has helped drive the country to its current level of prosperity. Although times have changed greatly, it still does not make sense that school studies should be chopped in half from a decade ago.
The details of this year’s proposed changes certainly raise concerns. In math, some specific concepts being taught in elementary, middle and high schools would be scaled down or pushed back to be learned later. In English, the goals are entirely adjusted. In elementary and middle school, English would be taught with concentration on listening and speaking. Reading and writing would be increased at high school. Learning materials for Korean language studies would be reduced and hangul was strengthened in the first and second years of elementary school by increasing lessons to more than 45 hours from the current 27. Learning in Korean, math and English would all be cut back.
The education curriculum should change to reflect the needs of the times. But just because studies are reduced doesn’t automatically mean that students will rely less on private tutoring. With seven to eight out of 10 Korean students getting private after-school lessons, they may have to increase hours in cram institutions to keep up with their studies because they get less coursework from schools. Parents worry about the academic capabilities of their children now that public schools no longer have regular tests and are sending them to cram schools as a result. It remains doubtful that parents will be pleased by the proposed revisions to the curriculum while there is no corresponding change to the rigorous college entrance system.
There are many adults who grew up in the times of liberal Minister of Education Lee Hae-chan. He championed the notion that anyone should get into college if he or she is good at one thing. Those children, who are now at their late 30s, had the worst education record. Japan also reduced schoolwork up to 30 percent in the early 2000s, but reversed the changes to its curriculum after its students scored poorly in comparison to countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
We are a nation of scant natural resources. Moreover, our tiny nation is divided in half. Human resources are our biggest asset. Schools in advanced countries don’t worry about teaching students more or less. They try to make classroom studies fun and engaging and show how they can be applied to real life.
To make our education curriculum meet global standards, a national commission on education should be established to draw up an outline for a comprehensive curriculum for the entire 12 years of schooling without any interruption from any changes in the governing power. A good curriculum is important but what matters more is how schools and teachers turn the learning materials into fun and lasting lessons for students. Instead of wrangling about our education curriculum, we must try to encourage and groom excellent teachers to help normalize and upgrade classroom education in Korea.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor of education at Sungkyunkwan University.
by Yang Jeong-ho