Escaping hypocritical education
Public and private education have always maintained antagonistic relations. What the government has tried to do so far is to reduce the private sector by strengthening public education.
But the money that flew into private tutoring and private educational institutes or hagwon last year amounted to 20.1 trillion won, which is about 70 percent of last year's national defense budget. This shows that all the efforts that past administrations made were of little help to curb household spending on private education. Schools provide a variety of after-school programs for students, but they are no match for private education.
This is a matter of course. Not to mention ordinary citizens, both those who map out the invigoration of public education and teachers who carry it out send their children to cram schools or give them private tutoring if they can afford to do so. This is the hypocrisy of the people who should be the bulwark of public education.
This type of hypocrisy is also prevalent in China. Chinese leadership criticizes America acutely as U.S. imperialism but they send their children to study in prestigious universities in the States. Even the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il sent his sons to famous private schools in the Western world, even though millions of North Koreans were starving to death.
However well teachers teach and student learn, most parents want their offspring to do better even by an inch than others. The only way that they can accomplish this goal is through private lessons and institutes.
A teacher surprised me when he said, ``We don't have to teach hard because almost all the students learn well in hagwons." To the degree that those children who do not go to private cram institutes look strange, the prestige of private education is overwhelming from the lower grades of elementary school. This sort of parents' love for their children has been passed down from time immemorial. Forcing humans born with genes responsible for competition not to compete never works by any means in all ages and countries.
Thus, the solution to the problem is quite simple. That is allowing them to compete both through public and private education. The private sector cannot be eradicated by any means and so should not be considered as a target to be toppled, but to be public education's partner which covers what the latter cannot.
But the following questions should be taken into account for the normalization of private education.
First: Does it compensate for what is lacking in public education?
Second: Is the quality good?
Third: Isn't this type of educational environment harmful to students?
Fourth: Are the costs appropriate?
Fifth: To what extent can the government give subsidies for private education?
The International Institute for Management Development announced that Korea's international competitiveness in science in 2011 was ranked fifth and in technology 14th. Finland, whose public education is number one in the world, is witnessing Nokia plummeting, while Korea, whose public education has lots of problems, is witnessing Samsung Electronics on a fast track. In this respect, it is hard to deny that private education has played an important part to a certain degree in Korea's enhanced competitiveness.
This is probably a good time to think about how we can make use of private education as public education's partner, getting out of the hypocritical situation prevalent in Korean society.
The writer is a teacher at an elementary school in Gyeonggi Province. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.