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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 10)

All News 07:12 July 10, 2017

Concerns over new minister
Education chief should focus on improving public education

Korea has placed low on international indexes measuring students' happiness. This is mainly due to the intense pressure they face at schools for academic excellence to get into a good university.

During a July 8 workshop, new education minister Kim Sang-kon said his ministry's biggest aim is to enable students to have a fun, happy school life while preparing them for the future with the necessary competence. But it is uncertain that his emphasis on fair education will be effective in achieving this.

Kim was sworn in July 5 as deputy prime minister for social affairs and education minister. He is the architect of President Moon Jae-in's education pledges, which are focused on promoting fair opportunities for all. In his inauguration address, the former superintendant of Gyeonggi Province Education Office vowed intense reform, emphasizing "fair education" as the best way to reduce widening social and economic disparity.

Now that he has become President Moon's first education minister, there are rising concerns about the possibility of Kim making hasty moves to change policies that could adversely affect students across the country. To protest Kim's inauguration, the National Parents' Education Association said parents should join a national campaign to not send their children to school.

Some parents and students are seriously against his core reform plans, such as abolishing elite high schools. During a press conference after his inauguration, he reaffirmed his position to abolish foreign language, international and autonomous high schools and turn them into regular schools. Kim has also called for adopting an absolute grading system for the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), Korea's standardized college entrance exam taken once a year. All of these changes are expected to cause much confusion in classrooms. In particular, any change to the CSAT, one of the most crucial criteria for university admission, is a very sensitive matter that should not be pursued without consensus from parents and students.

It is wrong to blame prestigious high schools for creating hierarchy among schools. The elite schools have been criticized for becoming more like hagwon, or cram schools, for top university admission. Despite these side effects, it is undeniable that elite education is necessary for nurturing the nation's future leaders. It is a rash move to get rid of these schools just to promote "equal education." Kim's focus on equality shows he does not quite understand what is really wrong with Korea's education system.

Kim should realize that the lack of equality is not the core problem in Korea's education. The education system is messed up because classes are geared toward getting the right answers for tests and they are taught by teachers who generally do not know how to teach their students to be creative thinkers.

Rather, Kim should develop a roadmap to increase the overall quality of Korea's public education. He should start by discussing with parents and teachers ways to overhaul the school curriculum and nurture more competitive teachers.

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