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Sophomores take a simulated college entrance exam at Poongmoon Girls’ High School in northern Seoul.
Equality vs. excellence in education
Debate continues over the controversial high school leveling policy
Following is the first in a series of articles on the challenges faced by Korea’s education. — Ed.
By Sung Ki-sun
The high school leveling policy is one of the most controversial educational policies in Korea. According to this policy, middle school graduates are distributed to high schools using the lottery method, which means they attend the nearest school to their residence without taking any entrance examination. From the end of 1960s, the volume of students who wanted to receive secondary education in Korea has increased dramatically. For example, the advancement rate of elementary school graduates was 54.3 percent in 1965, 77.2 percent in 1975 and 99.2 percent in 1985. And the advancement rate of middle school graduates was 69.1 percent in 1965, 74.7 percent in 1975 and 90.7 percent in 1985. Because of the enormous explosion of middle school level students, the selection
system for secondary school entrance was very problematic. As a result, the middle school entrance examination and high school entrance examination was discarded in 1969 and 1974. At the time, the high school leveling policy aimed to correct six major educational problems. Sung Ki-sun First, to cure the “problem of 9th grades” and make an effort to normalize middle school education. Second, to maintain homogenization and equalization of high schools on students, teachers and faculty. Third, to promote science and vocational education in the high school level. Fourth, to promote a balanced development of education through local
school upbringing. Fifth, to reduce private expenditure on tutoring by discarding the entrance examination. Finally, to control student population growth in the major cities and stabilize the rural economy. For these purposes, the government has tried to reduce the gap between schools by coming up with various efforts. Today, much has been achieved with the introduction of this policy. But people are worried about the negative effects of this policy and insist on partly discarding it. Many critics say the most serious problem is the under-achievement phenomenon of high school students. And another main criticism of the leveling policy is that a distinct heterogeneity in students’ ability makes it difficult for the teachers to teach classes, and students also have difficulties following the lessons, which all lead to a fall in quality of education and satisfaction. But many studies on this theme have proved that the under-achievement phenomenon could not be explained solely by this policy. On the other hand, this policy has lessened
Korean education faces challenges
By Cho Ji-hyun
Korea has logged some remarkable achievements in education evidenced by recent international surveys that gave the country high ratings for access to high education and the performance of students in mathematics and sciences. The highly competitive school environment and unrivaled educational zeal has turned out quality human resources that have underpinned the nation’s economic success and political development over the past half century. The education system is now undergoing a major transition. Calls are mounting for an overhaul of the current system which is viewed as irrelevant to this globalized, knowledge-based economy and society, which require talent with more creative, international and comprehensive ability. But opinions widely differ on the direction and pace of the proposed changes, leading to heated debate over a whole gamut of educational issues — including the egalitarian school policy, school governance and funding, government regulations, the private education market, college admission standards, university reforms, educational content and so forth. The Korea Herald will run a series of articles to look into major challenges faced by Korea’s education system. The first part involves the current egalitarianism in secondary education, namely the high school leveling policy, under which middle school graduates are assigned to upper-level schools in their school district by lottery. The more than 30-year old system has helped nurture a the school achievement gaps and raised the quality of high school education generally. For example, according to the Program for International Student Assessment 2003 conducted by the OECD, Korean students of 15 years old showed remarkable results. (Korean students recorded first place in the problem solving field, second in mathematics and third in science.) The vice secretary of education department of the OECD said that the result is due to the segregated effects of the diverse ability brought forward by students in same class. This is also the same method used by Finland, which ranked highest in this test. Nevertheless, the debate on the high school leveling policy has continued for many reasons. Recently, the demands to diversify schools are so high that the basis of this policy is being fundamentally shaken. Because of this demand, the government has established diverse types of high schools, such as: Special Purpose High Schools (Foreign language, science), Independent Private High Schools, Independent Public High School and International Schools for Korean students and many others. Today, these diverse special high schools number more than 40 establishments. I think the negative effects of these schools outnumber the positive effects. The competition for enter these special schools is very intense, which is the reason so many families suffer the burden of paying for private tutoring. The more important thing is that the opportunity of entering these special schools is not equally
A student and her mother look at a leaflet during a Seoul university session on admission guidelines. Yonhap News
vast educated labor force to support growth in the mass production era. But critics said the outdated system is impeding creativity and diversity in education. The equalized learning and test systems are blamed for an overall mediocrity in education as they force students focus on rote memorization instead of critical and independent thinking. It is also said to have widened the educational gap between rich and poor as affluent parents resort to costly cram schools to get children into distributed according to the family’s socioeconomic backgrounds. Possibly improvements to the running and management of the current leveling policy may be summarized as below: First, there is a need for an institutional mechanism which would allow middle school students to check their basic educational ability when they apply for high school education. A middle school graduation test turned out to be popular among experts, whereas students preferred to be tested on main subjects, and teachers preferred a test embracing all subjects in the curriculum. This means that in addition to schools’ record of achievements in the middle school curriculum, there is a need for an objective and a fair test in order to verify the students’ educational ability and in order to prevent the possibility of “dumbing-down” high school education. Second, within the leveled area, it is necessary to expand the “apply first, allocate accordingly” principle, in order to uphold the students’ right to choose schools. In particular, in order to present students with realistic choices, it is recommended that schools are given more freedom to develop their own distinct educational programs and tradition, and they ought to be encouraged and supported in doing so. Third, in order to prevent the student catchment areas from exclusively acting as a tool for regional segregation and unequal opportunities, catchment areas need to be broadened and students must be allowed proper power to choose. However,
prestigious universities. Some elite schools, specializing in sciences and foreign languages, have been introduced since in mid-1990s as a means to make up for the uniformly low-quality education. But they are still subject to strict government regulations. They are also facing criticism for deviating from their purported specialty, and only serving demands by parents for better preparation for college entrance exams. (email@example.com) at the same time, it ought to uphold the principle of allocating students to schools that are close to their home. This could satisfy both the right to choose and minimize the inconvenience of “commuting” to schools. Fourth, in order to diversify school education and alleviate the complaints of privately-funded schools for lack of freedom, these schools, when found to be capable of financial independence, and with clear founding principles and objectives, ought to be given greater freedom in order to satisfy the students’ and parents’ right to choose schools as they wish. We have to consider this policy’s long term effects, and consider what kind of policies are effective across the whole educational spectrum based upon objective research findings, and these ought to form the basis of specific educational reform policies. Then the future of Korean education will be hopeful. The writer is a professor of education at Catholic University of Korea in Seoul. — Ed.
National universities not ready for corporatization
By Jung Hae-ryong
but this is only a promise. There is no guarantee that the budget department of the governThe corporatization of national universities ment will continue to support the universities. in Korea has been a hotly debated issue around According to an official at the Education nationwide campuses since 2005. It was origiMinistry, the bill promises autonomy and nally announced by the government as a part of continuing stable financial support for unithe promotion of university reform in May versities even after corporatization. 1995. This year the Ministry of Education is However, we encounter numerous instances pushing its plan in order to legally separate naof the control and regulation of the minister tional universities from the government while of education over the university management almost all members of the university, including in many places in the bill. Therefore, the minprofessors, staff and students, are opposed to it. istry’s bill, as it stands, will erode the acadeThe higher education reform to introduce busimic autonomy of universities. ness or market mechanisms into the national The Ministry of Education maintains that university sector is undoubtedly the corporatization of national a radical and controversial plan. universities would upgrade the If implemented, it would ininternational competitiveness volve the greatest change in the of the Korean university syshistory of Korean higher educatem. But it is a very dangerous tion. project which ignores the realThe Education Ministry ity of Korean national universimaintains that the corporatizaties. Only 0.3 percent of the tion of national universities GDP of Korea was spent on aims to strengthen the global higher education expenditures, competitiveness of Korean unilower than the average of 1.1 versities. In order to fulfill this percent for all OECD countries purpose it emphasizes the inreporting data. crease in autonomy and acBasically, most university procountability for the managefessors, staff, students and even ment of the universities. No the president are opposed to the one would argue against the adoption of corporatization. Jung Hae-ryong proposition that universities Nonetheless, the Ministry of should become stronger by improving the efEducation is going its own way without conficiency of management. But, given the cursidering opposing opinions. The public hearrent educational budget the government proing by the Ministry of Education on Nov. 6, vides to national universities, the corporati2006 shows how ill-mannered and arrogant zation of national universities is too premathey are by proceeding unilaterally without ture to be adopted and can not serve the purproper consultation. In order to obstruct oppose aimed by the government. More imporposing voices, 600 policemen were already tantly, it allows the government to abrogate stationed at the front and in the corridors of its responsibility for higher education. the hall, and hundreds of people who wanted What would happen if Korean national to participate in the public hearing were prouniversities were corporatized? There is no hibited from entering. doubt that the government will gradually reCorporatization would not be the best soduce its financial support for national unilution to international competitiveness for the versities and make them self-reliant by purnational universities in Korea. As far as we suing its own profitable projects. The corpoare concerned, the corporatization of national ratization might not only result in downsizuniversities is only rhetoric promising the ening of national universities but would almost hancement of university autonomy and acadcertainly result in the raising of tuition fees. emic excellence without paying attention to Expensive tuition fees would conflict with the reality of the situation in the national unithe stated mission of national universities of versities. We have called for an increase in giving the public a universal opportunity to governmental financial support to reach levobtain higher education. In addition, external els found in other developed countries. We financial support, such as donations from the claim that the budget for current expenses in private sector, is seldom anticipated in the education and research should be increased humanities and social sciences, which are substantially. If corporatization proceeds not seen to directly contribute to industry. without securing sufficient additional fundThe Ministry of Education’s special bill ing for the higher education budget, the exfor corporatization has lots of problems. pected goals will not be achieved. It is imFirst, its governance system is undemocratic portant to ensure that consultation between because it excludes the participation of the the government and the university is given professors in university management. Accorthe highest priority in this process. In this ding to the special bill, the council is comperspective, measures by which academic posed of up to 15 members. Appointment for autonomy and accountability in the national them might be controlled by the power of the university system can be harmonized should government. This university council, excludbe further investigated. Government incening the internal members of the university, tives should play an important role in achievhas an absolute authority for decisions on all ing the streamlining of the universities. important matters within the university. It is necessary to respect the autonomy and independence of universities as seats of learning. The writer is the chairman of Korea Secondly, the ministry’s promise of finanFederation of National University Professor cial support is unclear. The bill stipulates that Associations and an English professor at the government provide financial support at Puykong National University. He can be current levels to the corporatized university reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A new university governance system
Corporatization of national universities in Korea has recently been in the spotlight and generated much debate among government and university professors. First proposed in 1995, the plan would introduce a drastic change in the operation of those schools. The universities will be run by special corporations which will still be owned by the government but have far more autonomy in personnel management, organization, budget allocations and other administrative affairs. The Education Ministry officials claimed that it is rather difficult for public institutes to voice their own opinions when creating necessary organizations under the current governance system and that the schools also do not have much control over their budget. They suggested that the new system will allow the university president to have more power — such as selecting its own pool of employees. Also, it will bring the competitiveness of national universities to a new level, officials added. However, numerous professors at national universities said it is yet too early for the government to make this move. They say it is impossible for corporatization to succeed with the current educational budget. In 2005, students attending public institutes were funded with about 7.5 million won ($8,066) a year by the government and, in 2003, the government’s support on higher education only reached 2.2 percent of the national GDP, according to Yonsei University professor Kang Sung-jin. In contrast, England secured 1.3 trillion won for university funding in the year of 2006 to 2007. Also, professors stressed that corporatization may only result in downsizing national universities, raising tuition fees and reduction of financial support. Ministry officials held a public hearing in November after drafting the bill last year, but only a few oppositionists were allowed to participate in the hearing. The ministry plans to submit the bill to the National Assembly sometime in January after negotiating with the university representatives, officials said. The Korea Herald will observe the opinions of those who approve and disapprove the issue, which is considered to be a measure that can greatly impact the entire education system in Korea. (email@example.com)
Students study at a Seoul National University library.
The Korea Herald
Why should we change the higher education system?
By Yim Chang-bin
Ever since universities were established, enhancing the competitiveness of universities has always been a challenging issue. Apart from the advanced countries, the newly industrialized countries in Asia like China and Malaysia have taken contentious measures in order to upgrade its universities’ competitiveness. Corporatization of national universities in Japan is a good example. In 2004, the Japanese government successfully transformed its 89 national universities, which served as part of the government agencies, to Yim Chang-bin national university corporation. There is no doubt why so many countries addressed great concerns over university competitiveness; it is because university reform greatly impacts the nation’s own competitiveness in the new century. Despite its half century-long history, national universities in Korea have tremendously contributed to human resource development and R&D in the industrialized era, which was characterized by mass production and standardization. In the knowledge-based society, universities demand productive management policies, but the administrative policy planted in the current national university system has revealed that it lacks flexibility.
Without arduous changes of system, Korean universities would experience “developmental lags” in the industry and economic sectors and the tendency will become stumbling blocks to the nation’s overall social and economic development. Therefore, it is time to discuss the issue of corporatizing universities to enhance autonomy and allow flexibility of national universities. Corporatization of national university issue was first raised in the “May 31 Educational Reform plan” in 1995. After several years of lapse, in 2002, the Ministry of Planning and Budget required the national university to corporatize, but the issue failed to be fully recognized. In 2005, the government announced national university corporation plan based on university self-determination in “University reform strategies through specialization.” From this time, specialists from the academic, economic and the media discussed the plan and made the first draft of a bill of the national university corporation. The bill recently opened to the public was a result of much discussion among diverse panels since the first draft came out. The bill included a transition of management at national universities and placed emphasis on independent decision-making, autonomous management of budget and organization. Individual universities were required to establish a board of trustees, composed of university officials and some from outside of the university. Under the new governance system, management accountability should be improved and head of the university can exercise his or her leadership. The autonomous administration policy affects sub-issues of management like personnel, organizational, and financial management. So far, a national university is over-
looked by the governmental human resource management and budget and accounting policies. There were constraints for a university to realize autonomy due to the government’s excessive control and interventions over personnel and financial management matters. However, in the “special legislation regime,” there are more pros than cons and each institution can enjoy autonomy in policies that can have affects on staffing, payroll, sub organizational planning and financial management. As for the negative perspectives of the law enforcement, opponents criticize that it can possibly depreciate public value and institutional autonomy. Other issues include retrenchment of governmental subsidy and a lack of commitment to financial support; apprehension over involuntary ranking among universities across the country; and downgrading of research in traditional “non-income-generating” fields such as humanities. The Education Ministry showed effort to minimize the adverse effects of the reform plan and promised funding, free-of-charge transfer of governmental properties, and reinforcing government responsibility in pure science. The measure also covers favorable provision such as succession of employment and securing tenure and pension plans for the corporate body. In the implementation stage, the education agency encouraged voluntary participation, which is different from Japan where government made mandatory for all national universities to be national universities corporations. We hope that members of the university partake in the endeavors of long-term development and for the new legislation to serve as a true administrative tool that contributes to the nation’s development. I hope the plan can act as a cornerstone for development of national universities through much discussion among university members. The writer is the chief of University Restructuring Team at the Education Ministry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Ed.
Students look at signs on a Seoul street criticizing the government’s college admission policies.
State control of admissions stifles universities
Following is the third in a series of articles on the challenges facing Korea’s education system. — Ed.
By Jin Hyun-joo
Though she still has one year to go before sitting college entrance exams, 11th-grader Lee Ah-reum has no time to lose. The student at Sungshin Girls’ High School in Seoul has been in cutthroat competition with her peers for better school exam results, which will greatly affect college admission for the 2008 academic year. She spends most of her time studying at school and private institutes. Once a week, she attends a special “cramming school” for a four-hour essay writing class. “I have to study not only for school exams, the College Scholastic Aptitude Test, but also an essay writing test. I am so lost,” she told The Korea Herald. “After the essay writing class from 7 p.m.
to 11 p.m., I am exhausted and go to bed right after I come home.” The 18-year-old girl is one of the hundreds of thousands of students who will be the first to be affected by the nation’s new admission system, which puts greater weight on high school grades and less on the CSAT, a standardized test accepted by all Korean universities. The government will implement the system from 2008 to encourage students to focus on school education and reduce their reliance on cramming schools for the CSAT. But the new regulation has backfired, spawning fierce competition among students and leading universities to rely on their own essay tests instead of the CSAT, which is said to be difficult in terms of evaluating students’ abilities. The government has long attempted to regulate university admissions, frequently altering the system when problems emerged. The nation’s college admission system
has been through some 13 changes in the last 60 years since Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule in 1945. Each admission framework, therefore, has lasted for five years on average, sowing confusion among teachers, parents and students. Universities have also long criticized the government’s interference in admissions and have sometimes defied the guidelines. At the center of heated debate are three admission rules which are rarely found in other countries. Under the regulations, dubbed the “Three No’s Policy,” universities are banned from taking contributions for admissions; taking into consideration differences between schools when evaluating applications; and administering a test known as “bongosa,” an in-depth assessment focusing on three main subjects — the Korean language, English and mathematics. The aim of the regulations is to provide equal education opportunities for all students. In reality, parents spend a disproportionately high amount on private education as they strive to ensure social success for their children. Leading universities have slammed the government for having pursued equality at the expense of excellence and autonomy. “The problems related to the university admission system are the products of superficial egalitarianism. The university admission system, the product of proud progressive egalitarians, is a comedy that is too serious to laugh at. However, today is not a time for equality but for competition. The only way we can survive is by securing good human resources through competition,” Hyun Sun-hae, head of admissions at
SungKyunKwan University, said in a newspaper column early this month. Political parties are also divided along ideological lines over the issue, with the leftleaning Uri Party favoring the bans and the conservative opposition Grand National Party calling for the abolishment of the rules. The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development has forbidden universities to administer their own examinations for fear that such tests would fuel the private tutoring craze and endanger public education. Under current rules, the ministry requires universities to give essay tests only to supplement other admission standards such as school records and the CSAT. They maintain the regulations were implemented after trial-and-error experience. Parents once had to spend huge sums of money in private education to prepare their children for rigorous bongosa-style tests administered by universities. “When they were allowed, there were many side effects. The situation would have gotten worse if we had not imposed those basic bans,” an Education Ministry official Lee Ki-bong told The Korea Herald. Kim is head of the ministry’s university academic affairs division, which is in charge of the government’s university entrance policies. Further controlling university admissions, the government has drawn up a list of “donots” on universities’ own tests, including a ban on English essay tests. The ban comes as universities are set to put more emphasis on their own tests from 2008 when the new admission system takes effect. “The guidelines demand that the essay test should not have a correct answer, not be based on specific knowledge, and English passages should not be used. These demands go against the trend of the times. Why should schools ask questions that have no answer? What is wrong with asking for
knowledge in this knowledge-based industrial society, and why can’t we ask high school students questions in English, when we teach English even at kindergarten?” professor Hyun said. The government has also often faced defiance regarding the second rule: disallowing colleges to give an advantage to applicants based on their high school’s university admission rate. In the past, when the academic status of high schools was a criterion to admission, students whose parents could afford to live in more expensive areas where education facilities were generally of a higher standard had a better chance of getting into the top universities. Effectively, the government requires universities to treat a top student from a good high school — mostly in affluent areas in southern Seoul — the same as a top student from a school with a poorer academic record. The ministry said university hopefuls should not be judged by their predecessors’ academic achievements given that most students are randomly allocated to high schools adjacent to their homes. Since the 1970s, the government has denied high schools’ rights to select their students in an attempt to reduce competition to get into elite high schools. Despite these attempts, scholastic ability differs starkly in schools from region to region, leading universities to favor students from high schools that have superior academic records. Some leading universities, including Yonsei University and Korea University, were found in October 2004 to be in breach of the regulation and had their state subsidies cut. But top universities have said they need to rely on their own essay tests and interviews because most applicants have superior highschool grades and CSAT scores.
The final ban, on the admission-for-donation system, is opposed by private universities which heavily depend on tuition fees for their budgets. Proponents say donations would relieve universities’ financial difficulties and increase the number of scholarships available, benefiting both colleges and students. Some leading universities tried to publicize the issue but failed to whip up social support due to a general antipathy toward the system. The Education Ministry and other opponents say the system runs counter to the Constitution which says: “All citizens have an equal right to receive an education corresponding to their abilities.” The government’s efforts to normalize public education center on regulating university admission and discouraging competition between schools and among teachers. Public distrust of the nation’s formal education therefore shows no sign of abating. The public demand for private education is growing and an increasing number of students are leaving Korea to study overseas. Some 20,400 elementary, middle and high school students went abroad to study between March 2005 and February 2006, Rep. Yoo Ku-hong of the ruling Uri Party said, based on data submitted by the Education Ministry. The figure was a 24 percent rise from the 16,446 recorded a year earlier. Most of the students went to the United States, Canada, China, East Asia, New Zealand and Australia. Despite the exodus of students, the government appears to be pouring most of its energy into tightening its grip on university admissions in hopes of putting public education on the right track. When asked about whether the government has any plans to adjust or abolish the there rules, Lee said, “For now, no plan.” (email@example.com)
Parents attend a talk on college essay tests at a Seoul private institute.
Students hard at work at a university library in Seoul
The Korea Herald
Korea’s universities: the flip side of educational miracle
Following is the fourth in a series of articles on challenges faced by Korea’s education system. — Ed.
By Kim Ui-chol
In international studies of academic achievement, Korean middle school students are the highest achievers. Among the economically developed nations, Korean students rank second overall, following Finland and surpassing Japan. This phenomenon is now known as Korea’s educational miracle. Why is this a miracle? Some 50 years ago, Korea had one of the lowest levels of literacy and academic achievement in the world. She stood among the impoverished nations, along with Bangladesh and Rwanda. Currently, Korea’s literacy rate stands at 100 percent Kim Ui-chol and more than 80 percent of Korean adolescents attend a university — the highest in the world. In a matter of one generation, Korea turned from the worst to first. This is truly a miracle. Although Korean high school students are the best in the world, top Korean universities fail to be ranked in the top 100. How could the best students in the world suddenly drop to the third tier once they enter a university of their dreams? This is the case since Korean universities lack transparency, integrity and accountability. Professors teach curricula that are outdated and outmoded. Research is considered a personal hobby. Incoming faculty are often selected on the basis of “yeongo” (social network) and not necessarily on scholarly merit. Professors often spend more time maintaining
harmonious social relations rather striving to be the world’s best. Once students enter a university, they spend more time socializing and networking rather than focusing on their academic work. University serves as an interim break, rest and relaxation between the intense pressures of high school and the competitive workplace. Restaurants, bars and cafes surround universities. On any given evening, you will find more students in restaurants, bars and cafes than in libraries. Once children enter a university, parents relax as if their job is done. They no longer invest as much time or money in their children’s education nor do they pressure them to study. It is ironic that it costs less to send child to a university than to a high school with the required tutorial training. Korean universities are micro-managed by Ministry of Education. The Ministry does not provide a clear direction, but flounders with the ebb and flow of political fortunes. Universities are burdened by irrational bureaucratic demands that impede research and innovations. The egalitarian attitude of Korean students, administrators and professors limits innovations and transformation. Democracy is heralded as the only way to achieve competitiveness. Resources are distributed on seniority norm (that is based on age) rather than performance. The prestige of a university is defined by the quality of the entering class and neither by the quality of the professors nor by the graduating class. In the USA, the ranking of universities is based primarily on research performance of professors. The knowledge they generated through research is taught in lecture halls and laboratories. Recognition, rewards and resources are given to those universities, professors and students who excel. Universities in Korea are a continuation of elementary, middle and high school where knowledge is imparted from teachers to students in a lecture format. Critical analysis and challenge from the students are frowned
upon. Criticizing the work of a colleague to students is a taboo, sanctioned by the highest disapproval. In American universities, students are taught to criticize and to challenge what they know to be true. They are encouraged to challenge what they learn in other classes and from other professors. They participate in knowledge generation through laboratory experiments, fieldwork and research. They are forced to think for themselves, to judge right from wrong, and at the same time participate in the academic community through research, conferences and publications. In Korea, funds and resources distributed equally or by the seniority norm. Some use the resources for research, while others squander them. Professors supervise equal number of students, with the senior professors selecting the preferred students. Professors in the USA compete for funds and resources and given to those who excel, regardless of their seniority. Transparency, integrity and accountability are demanded at all levels. Students flock to the best performing professors desiring to learn the latest innovations. It is ironic that American high schools resemble Korean universities, which are rather mediocre. Korean universities resemble American high schools, which are rather mediocre. The solution for the Korean universities is clear: We must implement transparency, integrity and accountability. Pursuit of excellence must become the goal and resources need to be distributed based on performance and not on seniority norm. Government bureaucracy must be replaced institutional structure that evaluates and rewards excellence. Political consideration of equal distribution, regional development, and social welfare should not play a primary role in university education. The pursuit of excellence, research and knowledge generation, integrity and accountability should be the highest goals. This is the strength of the US universities and why they are the world’s best. At the societal level, fierce competition, pursuit of excellence and elitism are extended to the American society. While it can boast the largest and most dynamic economy in the world, they suffer from serious social problems and injustices. In Europe, they value and foster enlightened minds at the university level. However, once they enter society, they emphasize universal justice, balanced and sustainable development, and social justice. As a result, Northern European countries boast stable democracy, social justice and the highest quality of life. In university, critical analysis and creative thinking are essential. In society, we need enlightened minds who understand the moral and ethical dimensions of social life, balancing science with social justice. Although the educated and enlightened minds should become leaders in society, they must understand the virtues of harmony and universal justice. In order for Korea to be a global leader, we need a second miracle at the university level. We have done at it once at the high school level and we can do it again. This requires students, parents, professors, administrators and the larger society work together towards the pursuit of excellence and universal justice. The writer is a distinguished professor at the College of Business Administration in Inha University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students make their way home after classes at a private institute in southern Seoul. The Korea Herald
Private education market prospers on competition
Following is the fifth in a series of articles on challenges faced by the Korean education system. — Ed.
By Cho Ji-hyun
For 16-year-old Yoon Se-jin, studying at school is an alternative. The real learning begins after school at a “hagwon,” or institute, and through private tutoring. He gets out of school at around 5 p.m. but that is just another start to the day, said his mother Park Soung-hee. He has other private classes lined up, which take him home at around 11 p.m. “Private lessons are a ‘must-do’ for an 11th grader,” she told The Korea Herald. “But it’s becoming a headache for all of us because there’s too little time and too many subjects our kids need to master in order to get into the right schools.” That’s just a glimpse into the private tutoring craze, a nationwide phenomenon in this country. The National Statistical Office announced in 2004 that an average-income family spends 232,000 won ($250) per week on private education — namely private tutoring and hagwon fees, excluding costs incurred from spending on public schooling. This is an 80 percent increase compared to 2000, the agency said. It was also reported that 7.5 percent of the national GDP is spent on education, according to a 2006 OECD report released earlier this year. Spending on private education is continuously escalating as parents are likely to do almost anything — take second and third jobs, eat and spend less and sell whatever they can — to send their children to prestigious colleges, which often serve as the stairway to a promising future. This so-called “education fever” has resulted in more money spent on private education. Private tutoring per subject ranges anywhere from 300,000 won to 1 million won a
month, Park said. “I don’t think private tutoring will ever disappear here, but the government needs to stop coming up with reformative measures that encourage more competition and more private lessons among students,” said Park Lee-sun, a parent of a high school student and a Gyeonggi Province bureau chief of a parents’ group called the National Association of Parents for Cham-Education. Numerous parents, students and teachers agreed that the current public education system does not quite meet their demands. The feedback was that the college admission system and the egalitarian system are a part of what push the students to go for private education. “I feel that what we learn at school is not enough to get into the universities we want,” said 16-year-old Kim Eun-ji, who lives in Sangdo-dong, Seoul. “In many instances, I feel that some teachers lack professional knowledge and some are just not good at what they do.” After the government announced in September new college qualifications for 2008, the number of writing academies spiked, said Education Committee members at a recent national audit. Forty institutes would put more emphasis on the essay writing exam for 2008 compared to 22 institutes in 2007, the government announced. As a result, an average of 300,000 students nationwide spent about 25.8 billion won per month at institutes teaching essay writing, according to a survey conducted by Rep. Yoo Ki-hong of the ruling Uri Party. An 11th grader who only wanted to be identified by his surname Gong said he was also affected by this new announcement. Gong, who already attends two hagwons and receives private tutoring in English, said he is ready to register for an essay writing class immediately after he finishes taking this semester’s finals at school. “This is now becoming terribly unaffordable,” said his 50-year-old mother Ji Kyung.
“Spending more money doesn’t mean all the kids will get accepted into top-class universities. Something needs to be done.” In an attempt to tackle the over-the-top spending on private education, the government launched the After School program at 99 percent of public schools nationwide, said Kwon Sung-yeon, an official at the After School Planning Team at the Education Ministry. The scheme is designed to offer highquality educational programs at low costs, said Kim Hong-won, director of School Innovation Office at the Korean Educational Development Institute. However, those who cannot find a solution here are flying out of the country to look for better opportunities. An increasing number of students are going abroad, mostly to English-speaking countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, said Lee Jeonga, an official at Seoul Education, a local company that arranges study abroad trips for students. Recently, more elementary school students are going abroad with their parents, said a counselor of a trip scheduling company in central Seoul, who wished to remain anonymous because of company policy. “The parents say that educating their children here is economically difficult and has negative effects on the children physically and psychologically,” the official said. According to the Bank of Korea, about 2,000 students on average leave the country each month. Korean parents fork out $2.43 billion while foreign students here spend $10.5 million on education, creating a huge overall budget deficit. This is a more than 31 percent jump compared to last year, which shows why the government may need an alternative plan, analysts said. The bank said that more than 15,000 students left the country between January and August this year due to the government’s egalitarian policy. The policy, which randomly allocated students to high schools nearest to their residence, aimed to normalize middle school education and to take away the burden of private tutoring costs from the parents. But critics said this policy encouraged underachievement among high school students, resulting in a dumbing down of high school education. “At public schools, students of different levels are thrown together into a classroom, which I think is why students go to hagwons, so they’re with students of similar abilities,” said Han Seong-yeo, a language teacher at Wolgye Middle School in Seoul. “Also, schools have a slower reaction to sudden changes, which makes it easier for hagwons to get a head start.” Education Minister Kim Shin-il announced a set of plans that aim to strengthen students’ English and essay writing abilities after his inauguration in September. Starting from 2009, Korean teachers of English will be required to take writing and listening exams and give a class demonstration “all in English,” Kim said. The ministry will select 1,000 teachers to receive intensive English training and teachers will be sent abroad once every three years for more hands-on experience. There will also be 2,900 native English speaking teachers instructing at middle schools by 2009. There were 640 native speakers at middle schools as of May. (email@example.com)
After-school programs promoted as alternative to private education
By Kim Hong-won
for middle and high school students. Some offer lifelong programs for adults. Presently, 98.9 percent of schools in Acting on the suggestion of the Presidential Committee Korea operate after-school programs and 42.6 percent of on Educational Reform in May 1995, after-school proelementary and secondary school students also particigrams have been implemented to develop talent, character pate. The program enables students to forge a real conand creativity in students. The cost of private education nection with the local community. has long been a burden to every parent and often the cause Because “After School” utilizes the facilities already of some distress. So much so, it has now become one of within the school and community and receives financial our biggest social problems. When the support from federal and local governments Education Ministry announced the and provincial offices of education, it can “February 17 Policy for the Reduction of provide students with high quality proPrivate Education Costs” in 2004, aftergrams at a relatively lower cost compared to school programs were suggested as being that of private educational institutes. On avthe most promising method for decreasing erage, students take 2.7 courses and only private education costs. However, afterpay 25,000 won a month. This is approxischool programs have not been substanmately one-third to one-fifth of the private tially and actively implemented, and as a education costs. Furthermore, students in consequence, have not contributed to a dethe lower socio-economic bracket can take crease of private education costs in any efthese classes for free. fective way. Since this October, a voucher system was Private education greatly influences a introduced with which 100,000 students student’s academic performance and a stufrom low-income families can freely access dent’s ability to obtain higher levels of edany course with a 60,000-won voucher ucation. According to a report in 2006, every month. Students from low-income private education expenses in the top 10 families, or farming, mountain, and fishing percent income bracket are 10 times villages are taught by mentors who are unhigher than that in the bottom 10 percent dergraduate students in universities for free. income bracket. As a by-product of rapid Next year, 300,000 students will benefit Kim Hong-won economic growth, social bipolarity and from the voucher system. the educational disparity among different social groups The programs are flexible according to any given situahas become severely pronounced. Korea has become a tions. In farming, mountain, or fishing villages, where the country with the lowest rate of childbirth in the world number of students and teachers is limited, students can and is rapidly entering an aging society. The biggest take advantage of a shuttle bus that connects schools. In urreason for this is that women are hesitant to deliver a ban areas, each school has specialized programs and stuchild because of the costs for child-care and education dents are more likely to choose among educational pro— especially private education. grams in neighboring schools. For example, WeeBong eleThe ministry introduced the “After School” in 2005, mentary school in Busan opens and runs 29 courses for which is a system that consists of high quality, but inex1,600 students, including students from other schools, their pensive educational programs. The system was created parents and adults in the community. The classes teach with four goals; (a) reduce private education costs, (b) English, English conversation, math, science, dance, ocanarrow educational gaps between socio-economic classes rina, soccer, jazz dance, musical performance, writing, and/or between regions, (c) place at-risk students in a safe computers, Korean checkers, film-making, sewing, yoga, and secure environment, (d) provide every student with badminton, Chinese, and singing. programs able to develop diverse abilities and aptitudes The “After School” system has great potential to sucwith a link to the school curriculum . ceed when it acquires a competitive edge over private edThe ultimate goal of “After School” is to offer every ucational institutions in terms of variety, quality and cost. student quality educational programs at public institutes. High quality instructors are needed in subject diverse arThe programs are operated by schools and by noneas. For this, a great deal of administrative and financial profit organizations within the community. Teachers and support is needed. Local governments and community orcertified instructors in many areas within the community ganizations with abundant capacity for administration and offer instruction to the students. The programs utilize finance should actively engage in the effort and support abundant human and physical resources within the comthe programs. Resilience, or self-sustenance, is the most munity. The education activities are available at various significant key to its success. It is acquired through a coltimes; in the evening, during the weekend, or even durlaboration of enthusiastic school teachers, the local coming the summer and winter vacations. The diversity and munity, and the central government with consistent poliquality of after-school programs will satisfy the educacies and support. tional needs of beneficiaries. Main curricula include child-care programs for students in the lower grades of elementary school, activities focused on the developThe writer is the director of the Office of School ment of talents for students in elementary and middle Innovation of the Korean Educational Development school, and in-depth or supplementary subject programs Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Ed.
Teachers take fight into classrooms
Following is the sixth in a series of articles on challenges faced by the Korean education system. — Ed.
By Shin Hae-in
As right- and left-wing teachers clash fiercely over education issues, schools have become arenas for ideological battles and students have become their main audiences. But many are concerned that the worn-out ideological disputes and political biases could interfere with preparing students for the reality of a post-ideology and knowledge-based society. Earlier this year, a group of right-wing teachers launched the New Right Teachers’ Association, aiming to become an alternative force to the radical Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union. Espousing “reformative conservatism,” the new group also vowed to block what they see as the left-leaning education policies of the Roh Moo-hyun administration. The conservative Grand National Party supports this new group, saying that it will help instill rational conservatism in young students. Some had raised hopes that it would neutralize the extreme leftist teachers of the KTU. But the ideological clash only left students more confused. The radical KTU was first established in 1987 amid an intense pro-democracy movement that had taken over the nation. With help from the radical Korea Confederation of Trade Unions — one of Korea’s umbrella labor groups — the union was approved as a legal entity by the government in 1999. Although the KTU had come up with various reformative measures to overhaul the education system, it soon began to cause disharmony with its militant strategies. Allying with the progressive labor group, members of the KTU could often be seen waging fierce protests outside school campuses, alienating the union from conservative colleagues and parents. A KTU teacher stirred controversy this week as he led about 100 of his students in a memorial ceremony for communists responsible for guerilla movements in the South during the 1950-53 Korean War. The middle school teacher, known only by his family name Kim, said that he wanted to teach his students properly about the tragic division of the nation and convince them that there should be no more struggle with North Korea. About 300 long-term communist prisoners, five other teachers and 20 parents were present at the ceremony, calling for reconciliation between the two Koreas and a united nation without the presence of the U.S. military. Conservative politicians, scholars and parents expressed concerns over the incident. Kim, the chief of the KTU’s unification committee in North Jeolla Province, was found to have held many ideology education sessions with his students. In 2003, he asked his students to join in a campaign protesting against the U.S. war in Iraq. In 2004, his class received media attention for writing letters to North Korean students. Most recently, the KTU has been protesting against government plans to introduce a
new teacher evaluation system. Last year, the KTU faced public criticism for allegedly promoting pro-North Korean ideas by using a book published by Pyongyang titled “Modern Joseon History” in its seminars. North Korean textbooks describe the 1950-53 Korean War as a “battle to liberate the Korean people,” and make other claims that are disputed by the South. Conservative groups, including the New Right force, called for an investigation into whether the KTU had violated the National Security Law in using the North Korean book. The book clearly denied the political legitimacy of South Korea as a state, they said. The radical teachers’ union, however, argued that the texts were used to discuss the ideologies of the communist country and not as education guidelines for its members. The union’s anti-APEC sentiments have also stirred a row. The KTU launched a controversial campaign denouncing the Asia-Pacific Econo-
‘Students are being taught that economic growth is not as important as fair distribution, and they are forced to take a negative view of businesses and market economies,’ professor Seo Seung-hwan of Yonsei University said in the seminar. ‘It is deeply concerning that students are being educated in such a biased way.’
mic Cooperation summit, which was held in Busan last November, and U.S. President George W. Bush, raising concerns of fostering anti-U.S. sentiments amongst students. Although the government immediately asked the KTU to maintain political neutrality, conservative political parties criticized the government for failing to prevent the campaign beforehand. Despite the government’s moves to take tough action on the KTU, right-wingers claim that the extreme activities and protests are in fact the fault of the Roh administration itself. Since he became president in 2003, Roh has advocated egalitarianism in education and tried to shift political and economic power away from the traditional elite. The abolition of Korea’s academic clique was a main priority in terms of Roh’s educational reforms. The GNP opposes the government’s education policies, insisting that they severely harm the freedom of schools and the right of students to learn. Meanwhile, right-wing scholars have sparked a separate debate over a new history textbook which is said to glorify military leaders who rose to power through coups. The book, launched by the New Right Union-affiliated Textbook Forum, calls the May 16, 1961, military coup by former President Park Chung-hee a “revolutionary upheaval” which paved the way for Korea’s
current economic development. The book also dismisses pro-democratic civil uprisings as mere “radical student movements.” Historians generally agree that the incident was a political coup d’etat by the dictatorial former president, then an army general. Although the group said that the book aims to “balance the ideological pendulum that now leans toward the left,” the book has been fiercely criticized for for its revisionist stance. Academics, religious leaders and civic activists of the New Right force have been working since 2004 to publish a new textbook. The New Rightist group had put forward its own account of modern Korean history in a new version of “Understanding History Before and After Liberation” last year. The new version presented a right-leaning historic view on the leftist activists of the 1980s. The original six-volume series had been popular amongst pro-democracy activists who fought the then authoritarian government. Some right-wing educators had wanted the new series to be used in classrooms. Even the teaching of economics — typically a much less controversial subject than history — has come under fire. Economic circles have long called for new textbooks and a balanced education to teach students properly about market economies. Earlier this month, the Federation of Korean Industries and Korea Federation of Teacher’s Associations — a union of rightist teachers — held a joint seminar on economics education in schools. The two groups criticized the current textbooks as instilling anticapitalist sentiments among students. “Students are being taught that economic growth is not as important as fair distribution, and they are forced to take a negative view of businesses and market economies,” professor Seo Seung-hwan of Yonsei University said in the seminar. “It is deeply concerning that students are being educated in such a biased way.” For Korea, which has seen the nation divided and military dictatorships rule, some ideology clashes may be inevitable. The radicals who fought against dictatorial governments believe the country needs to break away from the authoritarian legacy of “development first, democracy later,” and stresses an equal footing in the Korea-U.S. alliance. The conservatives, largely made up of the older generation who lived through the Korean War, cling to the traditional alliance with the United States and argue that Seoul’s lenient policies toward North Korea would only help to prolong the Pyongyang regime. And Roh, a former human rights lawyer, widened the ideological gap during his term in office with his socialist goals. But this is not reason enough to confuse students with conflicting ideologies, when they should instead be learning from a united curriculum, experts argue. In order to provide the younger generation with the right education, schools, teachers and parents should reject all political and ideological disputes. Education is the last sector that a tired, worn-out ideological battle should take over. (email@example.com)
What hinders reform at Korea University?
Outgoing chief cites professors’ direct balloting for president as stumbling block
By Jin Hyun-joo
The system of direct balloting for university chiefs is the major stumbling block to reforms, said outgoing president of Korea University Euh Yoon-dae. Because professors, not the boards of trustees, are given the power of selection, university presidents find it hard to push ahead with unpopular polices such as a shift to performance-based wage systems, Euh said in an interview with The Korea Herald. KU faculty members recently voted against the reform-minded Euh in his attempt to win a second term as head of the elite university. Euh, who is highly regarded by students and alumni for implementing sweeping changes, fell out of favor with faculty members for increasing the number of lectures in English and introducing stricter evaluations of professors. “Which professors would vote for a candidate who pushes policies unfavorable to them? The current election system proves that university governance at Korean universities is yet to be modernized,” he said. Most Korean universities adopted direct voting in the late 1980s in line with the democracy movement sweeping the nation at the time. However, this led to presidents often succumbing to the whims of reform-resistant professors. “Some of the professors may have been unhappy about my policies. But I aimed high as my goal was to nurture KU into a worldclass institution. They may have tired of the rapid reform. They may have wondered why
we were in such a fuss while other universities are doing fine without many changes.” During his three-year term, he carried out aggressive reforms, transforming KU into a globalized university. KU has formed partnerships with 172 universities overseas and sends some 1,000 students abroad every year. The number of foreign students at KU has skyrocketed from 100 to 1,700, mostly at its language institute. Euh also increased contacts with alumni and raised 350 billion won ($385 million) in funds during his tenure. His term, which started in February 2003, expires in December 2006. KU became one of only two Korean universities to be included in a list of the best 200 universities worldwide in a survey by British newspaper the Times in 2005. KU ranked 184th place on its debut and jumped to 150th the following year. But not all faculty members responded positively to the university’s dizzy growth. He increased the ratio of classes taught in English from 10 percent in 2003 to 34 percent in 2006. He had aimed to increase this number to 60 percent by 2010. Professors, in particular from the college of liberal arts, reportedly raised objections to his policies, such as the expansion of English-language lectures, several times. Euh also required faculty members to set and meet performance targets such as the number of papers published and the employment rate of students and provided incentives to top performers. “The Management by Objectives system is very old. Many other organizations have
it, but not many schools. So the change came as a shock to faculty members.” KU also granted 500 million won annually each to the two professors who published the most. “They earned more than me annually,” he said. “If I had done better, I would have won re-election despite those changes,” he added. Asked about future plans, the 61-year-old said, “I plan to read many books, have a good sleep and take holidays including a two-week tour to Kenya with my wife.” He also said he has not yet decided what to do job-wise, but he wished to have a “high value-added job which greatly contributes to society.” Euh also shrugged off speculation that he could enter politics. “I lack the talent to be a politician. I have also not received any offers.” He holds a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in business administration from Korea University and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A main building on Korea University’s Seoul campus
The Korea Herald
Korean pupils face too much competition: OECD official
By Cho Ji-hyun
Notwithstanding the strong performances of Korean students in international tests, it’s time that the nation shifts its focus to the quality of education and builds a more flexible learning system, a senior official of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said. Although Korea’s secondary education is rated the best among OECD countries, as proven in the Program for International Student Assessment test results, it does not mean the education system is good, Bernard Hugonnier, deputy director for education at OECD said in an interview with The Korea Herald. “School education and out of school education is good (in Korea) but I’m not sure if it’s a perfect system,” he said. “Students work too hard, there’s too much competition. They’re excellent students but they are not healthy students.” He said that children should not be anxious when they are only 15 years old. “You should enjoy life. It’s a question of happiness which is very difficult to change,” he added. This is because the Korean education system is mostly based on competition, not government support, according to Hugonnier. Hugonnier was invited to Seoul by the Education Ministry and the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training to attend an international seminar
that focused on development of national education and human resources. Comparing Korea to Canada or Finland, he said students there with learning disadvantages and those from a disadvantaged economic background receive great educational support from the education system while that is rarely the case in Korea. Korean students do not receive much educational support from public institutes, but they greatly rely on private tutoring instead, Hugonnier said. Also, the curriculum-based education system and “learning-by-heart” studying method are drawbacks for students that excel in problem solving, math and science, he said. Teachers in Korea tend to aim to finish the curriculum by the end of the semester, Hugonnier said, while teachers in countries with an advanced education system make sure every student has acquired the necessary skills before moving onto the next chapter. “Learning by heart is an efficient way of learning but would they know how to use the knowledge in the future?” he asked. “(The method) is not so appealing, but is efficient. There’s a question here that is hard to answer.” But when comparing Korea to other countries that became OECD members at a similar period — about a decade ago — such as Mexico, Hugonnier said he would give Korea two thumbs up for the rapid develop-
ment it has achieved. “Mexico is still considered a developing country but Korea is not,” he said. “Korea focuses on school education, sends students abroad, which led to better school education and has a very dynamic industry. Mass education equals higher quality.” Now it’s time to change the focus from quantity of education to quality of education, said Hugonnier, adding that quality education directly relates to quality teaching. “You need to invest in the education of teachers and make sure that students are taking courses that really fit their capacities. You need to have better career guidance toward appropriate studies and you need to make sure that you don’t have too many students (per class),” he commented “Lastly, it is important that at the local level, there is a good partnership between public authorities at universities and the employers and the decision makers ... and a continuing education system that can be efficient.” (email@example.com)
Korea, Denmark increase educational cooperation
By Cho Ji-hyun
Korea is increasing cooperation with Demark to improve lifetime learning and vocational education programs, which are increasingly crucial to a nation’s competitiveness in a knowledge-based society. The two countries signed an agreement in November to boost exchanges in four areas: vocational training, e-learning, lifelong learning in general and education of adult teachers. Joern Skovsgaard, senior adviser at the Danish Education Ministry, said the two countries have much to learn from each other to advance their education systems. “We have strong features you (Korea) can learn from and you have strong features that we can learn from,” he said. Skovsgaard was invited to Seoul by the Education Ministry and the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training last week to attend an international seminar that focused on development of national education and human resources. His trip is the sixth visit to Seoul made by Danish education officials this year. “Korea has a state-of-the-art e-learning (electronic learning) system,” he said. “It was striking to see how this was done in
Korean universities.” He said introduction of the Danish vocational education system and lifelong education system would be beneficial to Korea. Skovsgaard noted that the output of college graduates exceeded the required demand in Korea. “It’s a challenge to ensure dynamic correspondence between the labor market and the output,” he added. Also, more education is needed but people in Korea are graduating at an older age, which may result in their exclusion from the labor market, said Skovsgaard. “You need to establish lifelong learning in the sense that you study while working. That applies to everyone, from blue collar workers to managing directors. “The need for knowledge and new competences will increase. Education must change focus and scope from traditional academia to hands-on oriented research and educational products.” He also said that globalization and the internationalization of education systems is a factor that should not be missed because it is like “a protest where you can’t have a referendum.” “I don’t think education systems are
globalized at the moment. When it comes to secondary and primary, their international networks are insufficient, but we’re on the move,” Skovsgaard said. “Our government will encourage these branches to internationalize.” For better cooperation between the Korean and Danish education ministries in the future, feasibility studies will be conducted to eliminate weaknesses in the two systems and develop the strengths, he said. Skovsgaard said he hopes to establish a program for adults in Korea and find leaders of solutions to improve primary and secondary education. “The only way we can develop (is for) our nations to get close to one another and create a mutual understanding,” he said. “And I believe it begins at the institutional level.” (firstname.lastname@example.org)
E-learning: A paradigm shift in education
Following is the eighth in a series of articles on challenges facing the Korean education system. — Ed.
By Hwang Dae-joon
The demand for change and innovation has created a lot of pressure, but at the same time acts as a driving force for new opportunities to enliven and enrich society. The education sector, which is more conservative compared to other fields, also requires changes and innovation. According to Harvard University professor John P. Kotter, who is an expert in management innovation, the first step for management change is to confirm the crisis firsthand. He also said that there is a need to inform members that changes need to be made. We do not need to exaggerate the critical state of education in Korea — the signs of crisis are clearly there. These include: a distrust of school education; the side effects of studying abroad at an early age; conflicts among school organization members and poorly administered entrance examinations. Each of these issues on their own could be considered a starting point for future changes from Kotter’s perspective. As a matter of fact, Korea has made continuous changes in such critical situations in the name of education reform and education innovation, and has always been at the forefront of new changes in the event of new crisis factors. The e-learning society requires changes in education at a fundamental level. In particular, the cyberspace created by the use of information and communication technologies in education is threatening conventional school spaces and encouraging students to look for necessary information on the internet instead of referring to textbooks or teachers. The overwhelming volume of information produced in modern society already exceeds the intake capacity of individual learners. Despite the advantage of convenience, ICT use in education has brought with it new social threats, including cyber addiction and the loss of ethics. This situation sends a strong message that fundamental changes need to be made in the education system as a whole and at the level of individual schools. This includes ways of obtaining knowledge, learning materials and a sense of ethics in new spaces. Furthermore, a ubiquitous society, which is a culmination of the information society, is shaking the foundation of educational institutions. The concept of ubiquity, where every actual space in the world can be utilized as a learning space, does not just require changes in educational methodology and media but also changes in the educational mechanism itself. Learners do not just study within a set time and space, they can study whenever and wherever they are, using any number of portable learning materials. From the view of traditional education, this phenomenon may be regarded as destructive. However, ubiquitous learning also con-
In a ubiquitous society, various types of learning spaces can be created which guarantee easy access to every society member from infants to the elderly. Learning interfaces are also available without space limitations. In this sense, ubiquitous education will be the best tool for realizing a lifelong-learning society.
tains solutions, which differentiate it from other crises. Our attempt to transform education from being the responsibility of schools into the role of the learning society can be regarded as a crisis from the traditional educational viewpoint, but also as an opportunity for new possibilities at the same time. Informatization also serves as a means to set up detailed visions and strategies and accelerate the effect of changes by providing various information sources and opportunities for communication anytime and anywhere. Korea already considers informatization as an opportunity instead of a crisis in the educational sector. Since the ICT Use in Education policy of 1995, there has been a continuous effort to build an open and lifelong-learning society where anyone can be provided with education whenever and wherever they are. As a result, we have made remarkable achievements including infrastructure building, innovation in teaching and learning methods, effective support in building an infrastructure through education information services, improvement in effec-
tiveness of educational administration through ICT implementation and a worldleading e-learning system. Korea is now a forerunner in innovative changes to the educational environment, such as research and development of the Cyber Home Learning System for primary and secondary school students, establishment of a high school e-Campus, and the launching of cyber colleges. Cyber education provides a few visible results that do not exist in the current school systems. It enables individual students to study different materials for their levels, and helps narrow the digital gap by providing educational opportunities to schools in remote places such as islands, where educational opportunities and resources are scarce. Cyber colleges are establishing themselves as part of the social infrastructure to meet the various educational desires of adult learners and provide opportunities for selfdevelopment. The development of a ubiquitous society will serve as the driving force for development of the lifelong-learning society which is now being discussed in terms of the emerging social structure. The lifelong-learning society refers to a society which encourages every sector to study in an active manner through their daily activities. To make a lifelong-learning society real, there is a need to shift away from the traditional educational methods, which only focused on school-based education and provided limited education according to students’ ages. In a ubiquitous society, various types of learning spaces can be created which guarantee easy access to every society member from infants to the elderly. Learning interfaces are also available without space limitations. In this sense, ubiquitous education will be the best tool for realizing a lifelong-learning society. E-learning started influencing society by simply providing materials and improving educational methods. It has now expanded the educational space to include all cyberspace, and is leading to the development of a new ubiquitous-based educational system, a lifelong-learning society. The lifelong-learning society will bring about fundamental changes to the existing school-centered education system, which has been regarded as the standard educational paradigm since the era of industrialization. Those in education circles are already discussing the school system reforms that the emergence of a lifelong-learning society will produce. This means more than adjustment for elementary, middle and high schools, but the optional adjustment of grades, course lengths or schools based on student performance. This will revolutionize even the basis for classification of schools and grades. If learners can choose among various curriculum options, the curricula that had previously been nationally managed would be differentiated by region and become more learner-focused. The meaning of graduation would also change to become a qualification proved through various evaluations or licenses.
In order to develop the opportunities presented by informatization into the success of a lifelong-learning society, new policies need to be pursued. This should include new institutions differentiated from existing education informatization policies, which only focus on the penetration rate. First, in order to accomplish the new educational vision of realizing a lifelong-learning society, we should create a sustainable social atmosphere where education and learning can be done not only in schools but also in any place around us. Second, the ubiquitous society, which will be at the center of all changes, will affect not just technical aspects of our daily lives but the quality of our lives in general. In other words, the harmonizing of technology with our daily lives, wherein technology is adapted to human life rather than the other way around. A systematic study should first be conducted on how education and learning can best be integrated into a humancentered, ubiquitous society. Third, the ubiquitous concept is closely related not only to the development of informatization technology but also to changes in the social and economic structures. Therefore, educational institutions should be considering every facet of the ubiquitous-based lifelong-learning society, including the social, cultural, environmental, industrial and economic aspects. The information society has not yet solved the issues of personal information abuse, privacy protection and information ethics. These issues should be more seriously considered in the ubiquitous environment where information is expected to be more easily accessible and available. Informatization cannot be a panacea for every problem in our education sector and society. However, we have found and will continue to find hope for our education and society through informatization, which has cast us into a new crisis but also provided us with a new opportunity for innovation. The seventh and eighth steps of John Kotter’s change management suggest not slowing down the pace of change and stabilizing the changes in the organization. An e-learning society based on knowledge doesn’t just require us to adopt new technologies but to foster the capabilities of our society to transform a crisis into an opportunity for change. Hwang Dae-joon is president of the Korea Education and Research Information Service. He can be reached at email@example.com — Ed.
A teacher demonstrates an electronic learning program for students with physical disabilities at the Seoul Education Research and Information Institute. Yonhap News
Motivating adults to learn
Korea needs to shift toward lifelong education regime
Following is the ninth in a series of articles on challenges faced by the Korean education system. — Ed.
By Choi Don-min
There has recently been a rapid increase in the number of adult learners. Courses such as vocational education and training, career development, as well as leisure and hobbies have increased in number. According to the National Statistical Office, the participation rates of adults in continuing education rose from 17.2 percent in 2000 to 21.6 percent in 2004. A 2004 survey by the Korean Educational Development Institute found that 54.7 percent of adults were willing to learn new skills, but only 43 percent actually did. These statistics show that there is a need for a systematic mechanism that assists adults to realize their learning potential. It is noteworthy that the participation rate of professionals and clerical workers was 45 percent, whereas that of service workers, farmers, and laborers was less than 17 percent. This indicates a rising polarization in adult learning. Since the financial crisis in 1998, our society has shifted from the concept of a “lifelong workplace” to a “lifelong profession.” It is no longer common to expect to work for only one company until retirement. Not many businesses are willing to spend much time or money training and educating their workers; instead, they might rely more on temporary or experienced workers who can meet their needs on a short-term basis. Individuals also may follow this growing trend. There has been a significant increase in the number of job hoppers. This has led to a new term: “bodytemperature retirement,” referring to the average age, 36.5, at which someone leaves their first job. Another phenomenon is an increase in leisure time due to the five-day workweek adopted in July 2005. People nowadays want to enjoy their leisure time, rather than spending too much time in career development. French statistics data give us some insights: the decrease in working hours increases the number of travelers, which has led to an increase in adult learning participation rates in the past three or four years. Today, adult learners tend to demand a variety of education and training programs. They do not spend all their time working and appreciate quality of life. They realize how to appreciate the learning process itself. This explains why tailored programs on enrichment lives are becoming more and more popular.
The existing system is school-based, which makes it difficult for dropouts to have a second chance to learn. Neither does it provide channels for vocational education and training and career development for adults. This has been a huge obstacle for those who want another chance to learn.
Willingness to learn dissipates after leaving school. The number of over-35s at university is only 2.87 percent of total college students. This is the thirdlowest among the OECD countries, following Japan, 2.17 percent, and Mexico, 2.78 percent. It is important to implement a system that enables and encourages workers to develop their competence. The existing system is school-based, which makes it difficult for dropouts to have a second chance to learn. Neither does it provide channels for vocational education and training and career development for adults. This has been a huge obstacle for those who want another chance to learn.
We therefore need to construct a system that connects adult education and training institutes with schools. This emphasizes an education policy that encourages adult and continuing education, and opens higher education to the public. In order to connect the intention to learn with actual participation, we need to remove obstacles, in particular lack of time and money. The lack of time can be solved with education leave and the lack of money can be tackled with scholarships and subsidies. In Korea, education leave is shortterm, less than three months, and about 10,000 people per year take it. For those who have money to learn, financial subsidies can relieve their personal spending on tuition. Adult learners pay a portion of their own tuition fees — 50 percent for men and 70 percent for women. Less than 10 percent of them receive financial support from their company. Financial support from the workplace is essential. This motivates workers to study hard and make time to learn. However, financial support will not decrease the gap in social strata, as the monetary support will mainly benefit middle-class adults only. As the Korean Constitution states, it is the government’s duty to provide opportunities to learn for all. Yet this has been applied only to school education. Thus, the focus has been on formal education for teenagers, paying little attention to education opportunities for adults. As a result, inequalities in learning participation due to income gaps are increasing. Those who have missed the chance of education in their teens tend to show low participation in adult and continuing education. Therefore, the government should establish a policy promising the chance for education to everyone. In order to guarantee the right to learn for adults, the government should support learning for low-income families. Adult learning can be effective, in conjunction with welfare and work. The social safety net should comprise related welfare policies in order to overcome obstacles to learning. This should be mutually connected with a system that enables workers to save time and money for their future education and training. In a developed welfare society, education can serve as a link that connects work and welfare. Choi Don-min is a Sangji University professor who majored in lifelong education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Ed.
Visitors look at English-language textbooks on display at the International English Expo and Conference. The four-day event, sponsored by Herald Media, opened at COEX in Seoul yesterday. The Korea Herald
Leadership training for youth
By Kenneth Kyoungsup Gimm
“I’ve wasted 10 years of my life,” a middle school student cried out after completing the Korea Leadership Center’s youth leadership education program. Leadership theory was first established in the 1930s in the United States to train people to improve their performances in an organizational context. “Leadership,” however, has now become a buzzword and a topic of this era. Various leadership programs are offered in many different sectors, and many books on the topic are published every year. This era is definitely swamped with leadership. So what does that imply? In college and graduate school, I majored in civil engineering. My dream was to be a land reclamation engineer and to enlarge the Korean land through reclamation projects, converting the tidal flats into rice fields. Then as my dream was realized and many reclamation projects in the tidal flat areas of the southern and western coasts were completed, I began to plan my next big project — to educate Koreans in leadership. It was a project to enlarge people’s minds and hearts. We can become better employees, spouses and parents through leadership training, no matter how old and outdated our education was. Leadership is no longer a choice, but a necessary skill everywhere from the educational sector to the family context. Knowledge can be acquired even in old age. We always learn new things as long as
Kenneth Kyoungsup Gimm
we don’t give up. Yet self leadership, or character education, and leading and serving others is a most important skill which must be learned before physical maturity. The Junior Leadership Festival that we have held every year since 2003 reflects this fact well. Many junior high school and high
school students are already taking leadership courses as extracurricular programs. This trend first started in Daewon Foreign Language High School and is now spreading all over Korea. Paju Technical High School’s adoption of various self-development programs can be seen from the same context. As the old adage goes, “Deeply rooted trees do not sway to the winds and their flowers blossom and produce many fruits; Deep fountains never go dry and their streams reach the seas.” Most people like only to nurture trees that appear strong. But we can also nurture the ones that look otherwise into large and strong trees. Warren Bennis, a world-renowned leadership expert once said, “Leadership is like beauty; it’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.” Leadership is indeed hard to define. But we can clearly detect the presence of leadership if we look into people and organizations. My wish is to see leadership go beyond individuals and a few schools, and and for it to be established as a compulsory course for everyone. The more we train our young people to be leaders, the firmer and more solid our society will be. Kenneth Kyoungsup Gimm is president of the Korea Leadership Center. He can be reached at email@example.com. kr — Ed.
Foreign students attend a class at Sungkyunkwan Graduate School of Business in Seoul. The Korea Herald
Korea needs to further globalize education
Following is the 10th in a series of articles on challenges faced by the Korean education system. — Ed.
By Ahn Choong-yong
Several Nobel laureates — invited by Korea’s major universities this year to attend school anniversary celebrations and symposiums — were quoted as being quite surprised to see so few foreign students and faculty members visible on campus. Yet, many of Korea’s universities talk publicly of their desire to be included among the top 200 or even 100 institutions around the world. With the majority of their students Korean nationals, how can Korean universities and colleges be competitive in the era of borderless education? Ahn Choong-yong Despite the fact that Korea has achieved the world’s 11th largest economy status, the ratio of foreigners to Korean nationals enrolled remains a mere 0.2 percent. This is the lowest average for OECD member countries, which have on average 6.4 percent. Even this achievement is due to a very recent drive by the Korean university community to attract foreign students just to keep their doors open. At present, the number of high school students is far less than that required for college admissions. In contrast, Singapore has gained recognition as an international education destination. Since 1998, Singapore has operated a
“global school house” and “world-class universities” program as a national agenda to attract foreign students by both inviting foreign faculty and setting-up collaborative degree programs with globally recognized universities. As a result, Singapore currently has a foreign student population approaching 66,000, which is fourfold of that of Korea. The city state intends to increase this number to 150,000 by 2015. Australia is another good example of the multinational campus trend. Recognizing foreign student enrollment as a “key export,” Australian universities jointly established “IDP Education Australia,” a non-profit organization to attract foreign students by opening 100 branch offices all over the world. The Australian government plans to increase the number of foreign students threefold to 560,000 by 2025. Both countries have the tremendous advantage of using English as their official language which increases their appeal as they seek to become international educational hubs of the Asia Pacific. Although belatedly, in Korea, one may find a recent surge of foreign students on some campuses thanks to international studies programs partly funded by the Korean government aimed at equipping Korean students with greater global awareness. There has been a high demand for such programs from the public and private sector as they face increasingly complex international relations. Korean students continue to dominate these international study programs, but foreign students are slowly starting to enroll in classes conducted in English. As a result, the total number of foreign students, including undergraduate and post graduate rose from 1,983 in 1995 to 5,759 in 2000 and again to 15,577 in 2005. Reflecting the trend, this
year, one daily newspaper began including both foreign students and faculty members as key globalization indices when publishing the annual performance ranking of local universities. In recent years, a growing number of universities have adopted a requirement for faculties to publish in internationally recognized academic journals when they advance to tenured positions. Furthermore, many universities have granted lucrative incentives, in the form of research grants and salary increases, to high-performing professors. Korea’s new “publish or perish” paradigm is likely to contribute to raising both the quality of the education and internationalization of the Korean university system. If Korea’s universities provide competitive academic programs and attractive living conditions for foreign students, and also become globally recognized for academic excellence, there is a good chance of their selected as a favored destination of foreign students. Simply put, the academic degree granted by Korean colleges should be capable of effectively assisting foreign students regardless of what career they select in the future. Enhancing Korea’s competitiveness in this area proves a primary national agenda item deserving of serious consideration from an economic point of view. Last year, over 436,000 Korean students went abroad to enroll in degreed and some short-term language programs. In the United States alone, the number of Korean students and supporting family members reached some 120,000 and constitute the largest nationality among foreign students. It is reported that Korea recorded a record deficit of $3.6 billion in its international education service account. Another well known fact is that many Korean young children go abroad with a family member, usually their mother, thereby making the father the “tuition earner,” or the “migrating goose,” which is the more popular term for the lonely breadwinners who pay occasional visits to their families abroad. In light of the obvious problems resulting from the migrating goose phenomenon, the “English town” concept should receive higher priority. Additionally, some international campus projects by major universities in the Incheon free economic zone or local provinces need to be implemented through a viable government-private-academia consortium. A variety of programs including core science and engineering, Korean history and language studies, and the ongoing “Korean wave” could be designed to attract foreign students. Korea should also pay utmost attention to building foreign schools similar to Yongsan foreign school in all major cities, and industrial and business centers to attract foreign investment to Korea, which the country is badly needs in this age of globalization. Korea should realize an international mindset can be nurtured far more easily by adding an international aspect to the existing school system, and international campuses. In this context, it is imperative that the Ministry of Education and local NGOs committed to educational causes adopt a forward-looking perception of the international education system as Korea makes its way to become a prominent Asian business hub. The writer is chair professor of the Graduate School of International Studies, Chung-Ang University and Foreign Investment Ombudsman at the Korea TradeInvestment Promotion (KOTRA). — Ed.
‘Universities will be granted greater autonomy’
Education Minister Kim outlines his policy priorities in an exclusive interview
Following is the 11th in a series of articles on challenges faced by the Korean education system. — Ed.
By Cho Ji-hyun
Education Minister Kim Shin-il said the government will grant universities greater autonomy in the areas of administration and academia while providing more support to enhance their competitiveness. In an interview with The Korea Herald, the professor-turned-minister said reforming the higher education system will be a policy priority for next year. The ministry is devising a set of comprehensive measures to improve university education, he added. He believes enhancement of university education is an ultimate solution to the perennial debate over egalitarianism and elitism in education which currently focuses on high schools. Discussions on promoting excellence should be more focused on university and higher level education, rather than secondary schools, he emphasized. Local governments and educational institutions have been pushing to establish specialized high schools as a means of overcoming what they call the uniformly lowquality secondary education as a result of equalized learning and test systems. They called for lifting government regulations on the establishment and operation of those institutions. The minister agreed in principle that diversity should be guaranteed and specialized schools can serve that purpose. But he added that they are currently deviating from their purported specialty and have been reduced to training students to enter prestigious universities. He reaffirmed that the government will continue to curb the reckless rush by local governments to set up elite schools. To enhance university education, he said, school authorities should be given more autonomy. He did not elaborate as to what measures will be taken but said the government will consider the opinions of schools more than ever before. Local universities have called for more leeway in admission policies, tuition rates, budget operations, curriculum and personnel decisions. The minister, however, remains cautious on admission guidelines saying that autonomy should not be given to an extent that further intensifies competition among students and restricts autonomy and diversity of high school education. Following are excerpts from the interview with the education minister. The Korea Herald: The demand for an improvement of the egalitarian system, or the high school leveling policy, is on the rise. We understand that you have also emphasized the necessity of an alternative plan for
Education Minister Kim Shin-il
The Korea Herald
the education system to reach excellence and diversity while maintaining the framework of egalitarianism. Could you please assess the policy and explain how the system can be changed? Kim: The policy was designed to offer an equal opportunity of education for all schools in the secondary level. It was introduced to relieve the tense competition between middle school students, over-the-top private tutoring costs and the educational gaps that occur in different regions. The policy is said to have achieved a measure of success in that regard but the quality of education provided still varies according to regions and economic standards. Rather than putting all responsibility on the egalitarianism policy, however, we be-
lieve this stems from underlying differences in social and economic conditions and a school education that focuses on entering prestigious colleges. The effort to minimize the educational gap will continue with the ministry’s practical support and the effort to strengthen public education will also be pushed inside the framework of egalitarianism to have a good mix of equality and excellence in education. KH: We understand the ministry has started an investigation of special-purpose high schools over what extent they deviate from their purported specialty while serving demands by parents for better preparation for college entrance exams. What measures can we expect to fix the situation and what is your opinion of the request to expand the
number of foreign language schools and international middle schools? Kim: It is correct to say that the regional education offices have recently formed a taskforce that is conducting an investigation on the current status of special-purpose high schools. The inspection will examine whether those schools composed their curricula around college admission, if they hold college fairs that should not be held at a school and if they are operating illegal study abroad groups. Also, the schools will be checked to see if they meet their initial purpose of establishment. If problems are discovered after the end of investigation, we will take appropriate administrative and legal measures. Specialpurpose high schools will be encouraged to operate a curricula for their specialized field. High schools with more diverse curricula need to be set up if there are skills needed that cannot be found at local schools. Our opinion on the request to establish more foreign language schools, international high schools and science high schools is that the schools are becoming almost like private institutes that prepare the student for entrance to colleges. Also, we believe that there are too many of them, causing a negative influence on the public education system as a whole. While specialized middle schools were introduced to promote hands-on education, we believe international middle schools are aimed to raise gifted students. The establishment of such schools could lead to severe competition between students to receive more private education and to enter better schools. It could damage social integration. It is undesirable to grade students at such an early age. Some local governments are excessively pushing to establish special-purpose high schools for their own local interests. That could undermine the balanced educational development of the whole nation. That is the reason the ministry announced a set of measures on the reckless establishments and inappropriate operations of some special-purpose high schools, including foreign language schools. The autonomy of education should be respected. But as a central government agency, we need to present some guidance on education policies that will affect the entire nation and the basis of the education system. However, we will continue to invent and supplement programs within the school curricula that focus on promoting excellence. KH: You have strongly hinted that a reform is needed in universities in order to raise the quality of overall education in the nation. What plans are under consideration? Also corporatization of national universities is a controversial issue. In the meantime, some are asking for more autonomy in university operations. What is your opinion on these matters? Kim: Although Korean universities contributed enormously to the rapid development of the nation since the 1970s, it is also true that they are criticized today for not meeting the demands to produce qualified workers that fit the knowledge-based 21st century. Globalization is removing many of the barriers of time and space and the competition among nations to secure distinguished talents is intensifying. But our universities are still not well prepared for this trend.
We need to think of measures that will enhance the quality of education and research to go along with the trend of internationalization. We will continue with human resources development policies, the second stage of BK 21 (a project aimed to promote more research at graduate schools), NURI (an innovation project for regional universities), and cooperation between industry and academies. We also plan to implement an international-level evaluation system so the degrees received at local colleges can be accepted at foreign schools. We are on our way to invent a guidance system that can direct the universities to concentrate on a specialized field rather than having numerous majors of every kind. We are currently building a long-term master plan that will internationalize our local universities to prevent our qualified students from looking outside the nation for a school or workplace. University corporatization is an effort to allow schools to become an independent entity, which enables them to develop on their own. The schools will be granted more independence when making decisions on the organization, hiring staff and about the financial budget. Through this opportunity, national universities will select and proceed with a development plan that goes accordingly with their specialty. We, our nation as a whole, have focused a bit too much on secondary education while higher education has been ignored. Starting next year, the Education Ministry will push to ensure universities get the autonomy they need, which will allow universities to achieve excellence in education. Professors play the key role when it comes to producing the force that will drive the future of the nation. The ministry will put most of its emphasis on pursuing excellence based on autonomy of universities and professors. But freedom provided at universities should not affect high school education. There are certain things which can only be taught at high schools, but university admission tends to dominate the high school curriculum. Independence at universities is critically necessary but this needs to be done to an extent that it does not hurt the secondary education system. KH: Some educational experts are opposing the opening of the Korean education market. Explain the necessity of the opening of the education market and steps to be taken in the future. Also, what alternative plans are to be provided to comfort the oppositionists? Kim: In a knowledge-based society, education goes beyond national borders and is conducted on the fundamental basis of competition and cooperation between different nations. The country, relying greatly on overseas markets, is pushing a free trade agreement with the United States as a national project to secure stable overseas markets and enhance the competitiveness of the nation’s service sector. In negotiations with the United States, our principles are prohibiting the opening of the elementary and middle school education markets and allowing partial opening of the higher and adult education market. The U.S. side expressed interest in teleeducation and testing services in the second round of negotiations from July 10-14 but did not put up concrete requests until the
fifth round of talks in Dec. 4-8. Most importantly we have to raise the nation’s own competitiveness through massive investment in public education and effective educational programs. We will consider methods that can strengthen elementary and middle school education, specialize universities and offer a way to provide universities with reformative structural measures as a solution to make higher education more globally compatible. KH: You have always emphasized the importance of a lifelong learning society and the necessity of human resource development. However, our society is unable to retract from a curriculum-based education. How necessary is it to make the transition to a lifelong learning society and what are the scheduled short-term and long-term plans? Also, what steps should be taken to develop into a nation with strong human resources? Kim: The transition to a “learning society,” which focuses on continuing education throughout a person’s life span, is necessary with the introduction of information-based and knowledge-based societies. We must turn away from credentialism and advance into an ability-oriented society. I believe a system that certifies the person’s learning accordingly to its circumstance must be put in place in the long-term to accomplish this goal. Also, in order to promote lifelong learning, we must minimize the lifelong opportunity gaps between different social classes. A support learning system must be built for those that are at a disadvantage in learning and an infrastructure for educational training must be secured along with diversifying the education programs and enhancing the quality of education. For adult learners, the working conditions and the labor market should be improved and advanced. Over the last half century, human resource was the force of power that led to the current economic standing. However, the environment surrounding human resource development is constantly transforming at a rapid pace. New technologies of today are demanding people to acquire and develop new abilities and forcing people to continue studying. To stand side-by-side with this trend, every branch of the government should cooperate with the universities and the public to establish an evaluation system that can manage human resources in an overall national viewpoint. KH: Currently, the Roh Moo-hyun government has a year and three months left ahead, which is a rather short time to cover new educational policies. What are some projects you plan to go forward with next year? Kim: I do not think any of the current plans that are being pushed should receive any less attention. I will add a good finishing touch to those plans and minimize students’ and parents’ distress created by the constantly changing educational policies. My goals for next year are regaining trust for public education and raising the competitiveness of university education. In particular, I intend to concentrate on investigating the current status of private education which has been every education minister’s goal but an unaccomplished one. After the examination, we will put in place a policy that fits the situation and take another step with it. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Officials at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul receive admission applications for the 2007 academic year yesterday.The Korea Herald
Teachers struggle to regain their authority
Following is the last in a series of articles on challenges faced by the Korean education system. — Ed.
By Annie I. Bang
When it comes to teaching Korean literature, Chang Ji-sook is a 34-year-old teacher with two outstanding characteristics. She says she is one of the most passionate teachers at her school in Dobong-gu, northern Seoul, spending about three hours every day preparing for her class. Yet she describes herself as “the most hated teacher in the whole world,” knowing almost no student listens to her or her lecture, but would rather do “their own thing” in her class. Chang’s contrasting self-identities reflect what could be defined as the most daunting challenge for teachers at many elementary, junior high and high schools in the nation nowadays — instructing students while being distrusted by them. “I’m actually scared of students these days. Students have become so mean. I can’t really say things that I want even when students behave badly because they often swear back at teachers,” Chang told The Korea Herald. “It’s a shame to say this, but I often regret even becoming a teacher when I can’t pass any wisdom or knowledge onto the kids.” As many students face “an examination hell” in Korea where a harsh regime of endless cramming, the memorization of facts, is
probably the worst in the world, Chang says an effective teacher has to balance all of the expectations and challenges from students, parents and schools. “It is one thing to learn how to deal with students who frequently resist and disobey what we require them to do, such as homework, and it is another thing to simply provide core information that would lead them to top universities,” she said. In fact, with the little dependence students put on public schools for their education, many teachers in the nation say teaching has become a difficult task, and that the government has been struggling with trying to find alternatives to highly expensive private education and how to build a strong bond between students and teachers in public schools. The Education Ministry proposed a teacher evaluation system last year, which has been on a trial basis on 67 elementary, junior high and high schools since November of last year in a move to upgrade the quality of education. The teacher evaluation system is part of the government’s educational reform plan and is waiting for the National Assembly to approve its introduction nationwide within this year. However, the evaluation system, where students, parents and faculty colleagues would also participate in evaluating an individual teacher’s performance, has been strongly opposed by thousands of teachers in the nation, mostly represented by the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union.
The teachers’ union staged a massive rally with thousands of teachers and took vacation en masse from schools in late November, claiming that the system would only worsen personal relationships between students and teachers. About 430 teachers are expected to receive disciplinary punishment. Unionized teachers ask how it is possible for a young student to evaluate their teacher without any personal feelings affecting their decision, saying a student would most likely give high marks to popular teachers who are possibly less demanding and less strict in class. “About 70 percent of the students, parents and teachers at the schools participating in the trials have expressed great satisfaction with the new evaluation system,” said Kim Kap-sung, an associate research fellow at the Korean Educational Development Institute, a state-run advisory organization for educational policy. “I don’t believe the distrust between students and teachers is something that can be resolved through a governmental system, but the new teacher evaluation system could perhaps pave the way to improving the quality of public education.” He said by realizing what is good and bad in their lectures, teachers can learn how to change and develop the class preparation. “As we all know, traditional public education has been a one-way system in which teachers impose their knowledge on their students and parents. But students and parents are customers in a sense, and it is time for teachers and schools to listen to what kind of education students want, like a custom-made education,” Kim said. In fact, Kim Ju-hyeon, a 15-year-old junior high school student who was accepted to Myung Duk Foreign Language High School in Seoul, admits that teachers at her junior high school did not help her get into the highly competitive specialized high school. She says private tutors have more
information on the entrance exam of foreign language high schools, and she often had so much homework assigned by teachers at private education institutes that she had to do it during classes at school. “My kid wanted to apply for a specialized or elite school, and we needed an education that was going to get her on the right track. And it seems like the public schools can’t provide the service,” Kim’s mother said. Nam Joo-mi, a 27-year-old teacher at Chungju Agricultural High School in North Chungcheong Province, says everything seems very different from a decade ago. “Everything has changed, such as a student’s interests and expectations from school, but the education system has not changed. I can see how the new teacher evaluation system could bring benefits through knowing whether teachers are providing what students really want, but I don’t think there’ll be fewer students who pay for their private education,” Nam said. She said it has become natural for parents to spend a huge amount of money on their children’s education as the country comes to terms with a low birthrate, and children will face tougher competition in the future. Teachers are also facing greater competition in landing jobs this year. The ministry
said the total number of applicants for 4,339 teaching positions at secondary schools across the nation was 8,463, which is the highest competition rate since the government started collecting data in 2000. Previously, graduates from national universities of education were granted positions at primary schools, and the government decided to cut the number of applicants to state-run educational universities by about 800 next year due to an oversupply of teachers at primary schools in the nation. But the government plan led to hundreds of teachers and college students protesting over the new teacher recruitment policies, requesting the government reconsider its plans and produce alternatives. Resentment against the government’s education reform policies doesn’t stop here. The ministry has proposed a new private school law, which stipulates all private schools should fill one-fourth of the seats on boards of school foundations with outside figures such as teachers, parents, alumni and prominent figures from the region. The controversial regulations, passed unilaterally by the ruling Uri Party late last year, have triggered fierce disputes, not only among the policymakers but also among
many private schools, mostly represented by religious foundations. They claim that the revision violates the right of private ownership and autonomy. A feud between the opposition Grand National Party and ruling Uri Party over the law is disrupting work in the National Assembly, which is in session for budget readings and other pending bills. A group of conservative religious organizations, including the Christian Council of Korea and some Catholic education foundations, have threatened to shut down their schools unless the National Assembly amends the law within this year. However the government insists that as much as 98 percent of the operating expenses at private junior high and high schools nationwide are covered by grants made by the state, therefore the private schools are not really private organizations. “I just hope we can see the government’s plans as sprouts coming out in the spring rather than as fallen leaves and with policymakers focusing on what went wrong. Eventually, however, those fallen leaves become fertilizer and help the sprouts grow even bigger,” Park Young-sook, a senior research fellow at KEDI, said. (email@example.com)
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