Education Minister Son Joo-eun (?!)
Megastudy CEO Son Joo-eun was a star social studies teacher who took advantage of e-learning in its infancy and turned his talent into creating a KOSDAQ-listed education solutions firm.
In a recent interview at his office, the 52-year-old Megastudy CEO showed a kaleidoscope of characteristics from smooth talker and clever businessman to NGO leader, but the most salient among them was a concerned teacher.
For more than one-and-a-half hours, he spoke with a skill that allowed the listeners no distractions. He knew he was good.
His story started when he thought of making a change. He was a private instructor who taught a small group of students and was paid well.
Then, he moved his lessons to a bigger classroom. He opened 10 classes, each for up to 40. In the first month, seven classes attracted no students, with a combined number of eight enrolling in the remaining three classes. He had made up to 5o million won per month for small-group lessons, but his monthly income dropped to 320,000 won.
But things quickly changed. Through word of mouth, the second month saw full houses in all 10 classes, each class with 100 students.
During the interview, there appeared to be multiple factors that made him a compelling case to listen to. One of them was his voice that sounded soothing but coarse enough to prevent one from falling asleep. Another was his manner of speech that could be summed up as “calling a spade a spade,” or truth telling in the way he sees and feels.
History also appeared to be a factor. He lost his two children in a traffic accident. On the day of the burial of the second of the two to die, he went straight to class and taught. He now has two children who are siblings to the two deceased. Then, his trail-blazing decision to get lectures online in 2000 is a case study in business, translating into reality his version of Mohammad’s mountain tale _ bringing the classroom to student, if the other way around is not feasible.
When he was asked what he wanted to do if he were the next education minister, his answer contained all these characteristics.
First, he was modest enough to say that he would answer only from a perspective of a concerned person in the future of the nation’s education system.
Then, he turned into a consumer advocate.
“Our education system is not made for students and parents, the real consumers, but for the convenience of policymakers,” he said. He particularly raised an issue over college admissions officers, a system that the current government and its U.S-educated policymakers imported.
“The concept is so alien as not to go with our culture,” he pointed out that it was another case of forced adoption of an education policy that works well in other countries but would fail in ours, pointing out that colleges and universities are adopting it under the pressure from a government that threatens to cut subsidies unless they comply.
Secondly, he would like to simplify the current college entrance system.
His simplification formula would apply to the current standardized test that he thinks takes too many factors into consideration and ends up being too complex. He prefers a standardized test that is made more uniform with fewer disciplines.
“Tell me the grounds that multiple choices are less effective in discerning abilities by students,” he said, rejecting the conventional wisdom that questions that require explaining by writing are better in fathoming the abilities of students.
Then, he diverged into an unexpected area.
“Through simplification, we will be able to cut private education spending by half,” he said. It sounded as incredible as he had disowned private education from which he makes his living.
That impression was not mistaken. He had his own period of soul searching about the downsides of private education. “I saw private lessons as the root of a problem that stifled upward mobility on the social and income ladder because they help strengthen academic abilities of wealthy students,” he said. That was, according to his explanation, behind a decision to make lectures available online and make them more affordable.
Thirdly, “Education Minister Son” would abolish cram schools for elementary school pupils.
“Education is not a cookie-cutter that produces one-fits-all students,” he said. “It is about preparing students to think independently and make choices on their own.”
For that, he says the elementary school curriculum is the most important foundation.
“I think that elementary school is the time when children try to find what their passion is,” he said. “At that age, the answer is not necessarily in books or high test scores but in jungle gyms, slides, climbers and soccer or baseball.”
He said that he owed a lot of his present success to his parents who allowed him to play hard.