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[Op-Ed] Failed Crackdown on Cram Schools

Posted July. 10, 2009 07:35,   


High-ranking government officials have drawn up measures to crack down on private cram schools to help curb educational spending, but haven’t they sent their children to such schools? If their children were born abroad, they do not have to go to such schools because they can study abroad at will. Even if their children do not hold foreign citizenship, college admissions officers will certainly be impressed with their overseas experience. Such children could also have a private tutor or group lessons with friends from similar backgrounds. Otherwise, it is impossible that such high-ranking officials would have come up with such unrealistic measures.

The first day of the crackdown Tuesday saw students pour out from cram schools in Seoul’s Daechi district, which is famous for its cram schools, at 10 p.m. City education officials went there to burst the schools for holding late classes, all in vain. The budget required for such a meaningless operation was a waste of taxpayers’ money. In response to parent complaints over why students who want to learn are denied classes, cram schools have offered weekend or early morning classes. A new kind of underground group tutoring could arise, with students possibly studying in studios secretly after official cram classes end at 10 p.m.

The military administration of President Chun Doo-hwan in the 1980s gave up on controlling private education. When tutoring was banned in 1980, college students tutored in secret. Today, Korea’s private education sector has become globally competitive to the extent that Korean-style cram schools are growing popular in the United States. If the number of subjects for the Korean SAT is reduced, students will get more tutoring in English and math. A cram school teacher joked that if universities select students by playing rock, paper and scissors, cram schools for the game will appear. As long as public education remains inferior to private education and as long as the people’s desire to get ahead remains, even dictator cannot control cram schools.

What about transforming cram schools into real schools? Then students will not have to waste time at school by day and fewer students will attend cram schools at night. There are private schools, independent schools and experimental schools abroad. Or what about turning schools into cram schools by fostering the best teachers in each school? Then students will not go to cram schools. If the time and energy used by officials to crack down on cram schools are instead used to overhaul schools and teachers’ unions, this would make a big difference in Korean education.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)