Disband the Education Ministry
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
In the fall of 2011, the United States changed its patent law from a “first-to-invent” to a “first-inventor-to-file” system. President Barack Obama signed the revision at Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia, which is the equivalent to a science high school in Korea. I remember covering the story as a Washington correspondent. Obama told the students that their heads were the brain factories producing patents. I was impressed when he said they should look at Korean education because Korean students study mathematics, science and foreign languages instead of playing games and watching TV. He repeated the same story when visiting different high schools while in office.
The education mania that Obama envied is viewed more darkly in Korea, as seen in Sangsan High School and Haeundae High School. The reasoning for demonizing them is absurd, as it is because they are ahead. Think about this: High schools hierarchies are fundamental because there is a hierarchy of colleges. If you want change, it should come in college admissions, not high school admissions. No one believes removing independent private schools would revive our general high schools. But the independent private schools are being blamed for ruining public education and making other students feel inferior.
Korea could attain miraculous economic growth by focusing on its human resources, not its lack of natural resources. In the age of the so-called fourth industrial revolution, educating creative talents is the challenge of the times. The key is to expand autonomy and enhance educational competitiveness. Japan and other developed countries focus on reforming their educational systems to make it easier for general high schools to convert to specialized high schools. Korea is going the other way.
The Blue House secretary for civil affairs said that foreign language high school graduates should major in languages in college, but his daughter went to an engineering college and then a medical school upon graduating from a foreign language school. Two sons of the Seoul Metropolitan Police’s superintendent, who promotes abolishing specialized and independent private high schools, went to foreign language schools. The daughter of the education minister who drafted the policy to abolish specialized high schools entered an international middle school. There are many examples of policymakers making their own children exceptions to their own rules.
Korea’s investment in education per gross domestic product (GDP) is greater than that of Japan or Germany. Korea’s college-entrance rate is the second highest in the world. But the qualitative level of the education system is 75th, far behind China. The education paradigm itself needs to fundamentally change to nurturing confident and competitive talents. A social consensus and national agreement are the most important factors. Yet the national educational committee in charge consists of former leftist education activists or ideology-driven members.
Independent private schools are offering quality education with good facilities and without tax subsidies. It is a comedy that they are being closed. Let’s say standardization is achieved. What next? They will be neglected. It is not just about the independent private high schools. Most key education policies — including college entrance system reform — are adrift. As regulations are increasing day by day, some in the field are asking to shut down the Education Ministry. But the ministry is busy expanding its presence.
The former and incumbent education ministers say that the hierarchy among high schools led to many complaints. But the government should not settle on an educational policy by choosing favorable polls. Former President Roh Moo-hyun said: “Public opinion should be respected. But public opinion does not necessarily contain a future vision or strategy.” The support for government’s education policy has been consistently about 30 percent. That’s the public’s opinion.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 28, Page 30