IT powerhouse fails

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IT powerhouse fails

 Yeom Tae-jeong
The author is director of the EYE Team at the JongAng Ilbo.
 
 
Being an IT powerhouse has long been South Korea’s pride. It beat the United States for the title of the world’s first in commercial rollout of 5G wireless service. It is No. 1 in terms of the internet penetration rate and wireless phones. It was among the first to launch a satellite for digital multimedia broadcasting.
 
The list goes on. But the free online lectures supplied by the public Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) bring shame to the title as an IT powerhouse. The new school year started two weeks ago, but the public e-school control system has been unable to function well. The upgrade to enable interactive class does not work properly. Teachers are anguished because of poor connectivity in online classes. Student complaints are mounting. That raises questions what authorities have been doing over the last year of remote schooling.
 
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae apologized for the fallout at the National Assembly on Tuesday and vowed to complete the upgrades and fixes by the end of March. But whether the system will be running well by then is doubtful. EBS claims key functions were working well and promises to take supplementary actions along the way.
 
Many teachers prefer the use of U.S. videoconference platform Zoom to the EBS online platform. For now, Zoom use in a 40-minute class is free. But from August, schools will have to pay. The government may cover the fee. An IT powerhouse will have to import a U.S. videoconferencing platform and worry about the monthly fees.
 
In today’s world, illiteracy is not just restricted to inability to read or write. The ability to handle digital device is also a must. Digital literacy refers to the ability to produce text, images, audio and designs using technology. Here, smart devices are essential. The government has been supplying notebooks or tablet PCs to low-income families for remote schooling since last year. Kim Bong-jin, CEO and founder of Woowa Brothers, donated 20 billion won ($1.8 million) to supply 10,000 high-performance laptops to children of low-income families. Kim pointed out that children of poor families are being deprived of proper schooling due to low-quality laptops handed out by the state.
 
According to a state survey in 2020, the total private education rate and cost by elementary and secondary students declined from the previous year due to Covid-19 and social distancing rules. But among the students who went on receiving private tutoring, the cost went up. The bigger their income, the higher rate for private education and expenditure. The disparity in education has worsened. If remote schooling does not work out well, children of low-income families would become deprived of both public and private education.
 
As equality is most important in education, it is essential for the Moon Jae-in administration to envision fairer education. In the book “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust,” Brookings Institution senior fellow Richard Reeves examines “opportunity hoarding” by the better-off through exclusive access to scare resources for “good parenting.” The means include endeavors to maintain exclusivity in the neighborhoods, schools and home values, irregular means to get into elite universities and dominance of internship programs. The one percent are hoarding property, education and jobs. Education is closely linked to jobs.
 
When well used, universal remote education through the momentum of Covid-19 can help level out the grounds in education. Although classroom education should be normalized, online education infrastructure must be an ongoing project. Remote schooling has become a part of the new norm. In-person and remote schooling convergence can augment education effect. Authorities claim that they have spent 6 billion won to upgrade our interactive platform. But there must be more advanced online education platform. If necessary, more investment must be made. Few taxpayers will oppose spending on education for their children.
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