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[Editorial] Globally Competitive Education Brings Prosperity

[Editorial] Globally Competitive Education Brings Prosperity

Posted October. 11, 2007 03:47,   


The Major opposition Grand National Party (GNP) presidential candidate, Lee Myung-bak, announced on Tuesday his campaign pledges on education, including establishing 300 special-purpose high schools nationwide and giving complete autonomy to colleges and universities over three stages.

There are a number of things we need to examine: whether the pace of the proposed policies is relevant, whether there is any possibility of imbalance in supply and demand, and what constitutes complementary measures for public schools, which may lag slightly behind due to the expansion of independent private and special-purpose high schools. However, we generally welcome his education measures, which are aimed at securing educational autonomy and diversity and at the same time maintaining the framework of standardized education.

Regarding Lee’s proposals, Han Man-jung, policy director at Korean Teachers & Educational Worker`s Union (KTU), said, “Lee seems to intend to shift the education system only to bring benefit to those with a vested interest.” Rep. Lee Mi-gyeong of the pro-government United New Democratic Party (UNDP) also pointed out, “Establishment of more than twenty independent private high schools in Seoul alone would deepen the social polarization, and only wealthy children will make the most of the quality education.”

Still, as long as such arguments are not motivated to gain political advantages by evoking the sense of relative deprivation of the have not’s, we first need to reflect what type of education could enhance the nation’s competitiveness.

Mr. Lee proposed to expand the number of independent private schools, which are not interfered with by government control, by one hundred. Unlike public schools which are under the supervision of the government, private schools should be given autonomy in recruiting new students. We should gradually improve the dismal state of standardized education by unlocking private schools from the shackles of standardized education.

KTU criticizes independent private high schools for expensive tuition fees, but its argument is not relevant given that those schools are not financed by the government budget, but by parents who choose them over public schools. If the government put the extra budget stemming from the reserved money to good use, such as proving more facilities and increasing scholarship funds, that would naturally redistribute wealth. Lee said his proposals were designed to “prevent poverty from being handed down through education.” There is no cause for the KTU to oppose his pledges.

Giving complete autonomy to colleges and universities in recruiting new students should not be blamed for reviving the college entrance exam. Providing colleges and universities with more opportunities for developing various measures to evaluate students will not only benefit schools but also enhance national competitiveness. There is not a single country in the advanced world that holds the reins of admission policy as tightly as Korea. Such inflexible policy will make it hard to produce competitive colleges on a global stage.

Furthermore, we cannot afford to go against the general trend of globalization. The number of elementary and secondary Korean students studying at international schools abroad in the U.S., Canada, China, Singapore, and Malaysia is approaching thirty thousand. A growing number of Korean students are leaving Korea to receive a better education for other countries which fall behind Korea in economic terms.

This is because the education policy of the current administration is fixed with unproductive standardized education. If the quality of public education further deteriorates, the nation will see a higher number of students from wealthy families leaving Korea for a better education abroad. The education policy which restrains quality education in high schools and universities will only result in the outflow of dollars earned through exports.

We can make the country more prosperous when we produce more talented people who have received quality education and are equipped themselves with competitiveness in the international market. If the nation fails to nurture the next generation, who will lead the knowledge-based society, it will make the life of the weak much harder.

It is education that will govern the essential competitiveness of a nation in the knowledge-based society. Bureaucracy and uniformed standardization will not just bring down the quality of college education, but also expand the diverging gap of social inequality.