Former public officials aim to overhaul education

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Former public officials aim to overhaul education


From left: Kim Byeong-il, the former minister of planning and budget; Shin Young-moo, the former president of the Korean Bar Association; and Yoon Jeung-hyun, the former minister of strategy and finance. [KIM SANG-SEON]

Three of Korea’s legal and economic magnates are doing their part to reform the country’s education system, motivated by the common belief that the collapse of public education could lead to the collapse of society.

Shin Young-moo, 71, who served as the 46th president of the Korean Bar Association, established the civic group Citizens Coalition for Social Justice in 2014 after his departure from Shin & Kim, the law firm he founded in 1981.

The group’s original objective was to better society through educational reform and anticorruption measures, and it twice hosted forums on education reform, in which Shin’s contemporaries, former Minister of Planning and Budget Kim Byeong-il, 70, and former Finance Minister Yoon Jeung-hyun, 69, led heated debates on the subject.

Their interest in education, however, was influenced by different factors.

Shin, a legal expert with more than four decades of experience, said he became interested in education reform because of his grandsons.

“My grandsons are middle school students, and I realized that the Korean educational system has a number of problems,” he said. “As a grandfather of students in Korea, I’ve had doubts about the education system.”

Shin also criticized the emphasis placed on the national College Scholastic Ability Test, which serves as the determining factor in whether high school graduates are admitted to universities.

Since he resigned from public office in 2005, Kim has headed the Dosan Seowon Confucian School and worked as an advocate of the philosophy of Yi Hwang, a prominent Confucian scholar during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

Having been interested in history and traditional culture in his tenure as minister, Kim emphasized that personal-development education should be improved for future generations.

“A Korean education system that is focused on university admission neglects the importance of character building and forces students to ignore their true potential in life,” he said. “Due to the lack of emphasis on personal development, very few Koreans have a sense of well-being in spite of our country’s highly successful economic development over the past decades.”

Yoon had always been interested in education issues, and he used to have detailed discussions on these issues with officials from the Ministry of Education.

After resigning from the government, he founded his own economic research institution and has since worked as an economic expert.

“The alienation between the labor market and the education system has forced 500,000 university graduates each year to settle for unemployment or low-quality jobs,” Yoon said.

“The high school entrance exam should be revived in order to solve this problem. We should cut the number of students who really want to study more by entering universities and let students with professional competence and skills receive vocational education instead.”

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