Private Education Spending to Be Halved
By Kang Shin-who
Lee Ju-ho, first vice minister of education, science and technology, has vowed to put all efforts into reducing the cost of private education that burdens many Korean parents and students.
It was also a pledge of the Lee Myung-bak administration during the presidential campaign, and the vice minister is a core member of the current government's education policy. According to the National Statistics Office, approximately 2 trillion won is spent annually on private education.
The ambitious education policy maker said that Korea would see substantial results in three years, when the Lee Myung-bak government leaves office. "Many people say that we cannot settle the question of the huge private education costs, but I believe we can and this is why I have set up a special team at the ministry. The previous president didn't see education as something that we are able to reform, but President Lee believes that we can solve the problems with education.
Following is the full text of The Korea Times interview with First Vice Minister Lee Ju-ho
Question: What do you think about U.S. President Obama's praise of Korean education?
Answer: We have achieved a certain level of success in education, not because of our education system, but because of the enthusiasm for education from our parents. Our teachers are better than those in the U.S. and the three parties of education ― parents, teachers and students ― are good but the education system has a problem. As we have advanced to a developed country, we have found many problems in the education system.
Q: How do you think high schools and universities will change in the next three years?
A: I believe a three-step autonomy scheme will be established as I prepared it when I was working for the power transition committee. The first step is to adopt college admissions officers led by the Korean Council for University Education and the second step is to reform the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) to alleviate the burden on college hopefuls from severe competition to achieve high scores.
Q: What is to be included in the CSAT reform plans scheduled to be announced in March?
A: We are preparing them now and are open to all possibilities. Overall, the plans aim to free college hopefuls from overly heavy study burdens and high private education costs.
Q: Do you have a plan to reduce the number of subjects on the test?
A: There is a possibility to do so. We will lighten the workload of students and help them to improve their creativity. Many education experts say that the CSAT has more side effects than positive effects. As the test is for colleges to select students, students have to go to hagwon (private cram schools) but we cannot scrap the test as well. But with an admissions officers system that can tell the potential of students, we can reform the test easily. Before, it was hard to transform the test which decides a pass or fail for college admissions. With the new system, we can give education opportunities to those who have financial difficulties. We will improve the test in a way to help students exert their potential and talents.
Q: Is it possible to further lower the 5.7 percent on the current college loan interest rate?
A: I think so. The interest rate on the college loan has already been lowered from 7 percent and it can come down more. I believe the rate is not too high for parents and students. We need to deal with the problems step by step.
Q: How do you feel about working in the ministry compared to when you were a lawmaker outside of the ministry?
A: I have closely watched the ministry for the past 15 years, but I don't feel there have been any big differences. When I was appointed vice minister, I decided to change the mindset of the ministry officials who are obsessed with defeatism. For example, I created a special team to reduce private education costs, although many officials here said there were no ways to settle the problems. I will continue to push ahead with student and parent-oriented education policies.
Q: Is there any possibility that private education cost could rise after the Lee Myung-bak administration?
A: A number of universities have already adopted admissions officers systems and high schools are now transforming in a direction to reduce private education costs. In addition, we are revising the evaluation system of teachers and schools. We are controlling hagwon (private cram schools). Although I am a market-oriented person, I think the reigning hagwon are free from ideology problems whether you are conservative or progressive. We will continue to restrict hagwon for the next three years. I think we can change schools into those on a par with advanced countries.
Q: Do you have any measures to deal with complaints from parents and students about students who admissions officers have failed?
A: Universities don't need to respond to all complaints from parents and students. Trust and fairness between parents or students and universities are vital for the college admissions officers system. I believe the morality of the Korean people is already high enough to accept the system.