Abrupt policy change
Social consensus key to ensuring better education
The Ministry of Education has been criticized for suddenly changing its high school education policy without reflecting the different voices of students, parents and teachers. No one can easily accept the way the government makes any policy shift in such a roughand-ready manner.
On Thursday, the ministry announced a plan to turn three types of elite high schools into general schools by 2025. The plan is aimed at promoting “fairness” in education and improving the quality of public education. Those affected schools are 79 autonomous private, foreign language and international high schools.
Of course there is a need for shutting down such schools because their students usually enjoy undue advantages and privileges in entering top-notch universities. Such a need has grown since a corruption case involving former Justice Minister Cho Kuk erupted when he was appointed in September. Cho resigned after 35 days in office in mid-October, in the face of a mounting public backlash over his alleged unfair and hypocritical behavior.
Cho and his wife face allegations that they were deeply involved in admissions fraud to help their daughter, who attended a foreign language high school, enter a prestigious university.
President Moon must have felt that Cho family’s alleged admissions scheme has undermined his commitment to create a fair society. Therefore, he has decided to close foreign language and other elite high schools in a bid to overcome his political setback. Nevertheless, Moon and his government should have taken a due decision-making process.
For this reason, the President cannot deflect criticism for making a unilateral decision without letting the education ministry hold public hearings on the issue. Before the Cho case, the ministry had no plan to scrap the elite high school system, although it was seeking to close such schools if they failed to meet certain requirements for their operation.
The problem is that the ministry was unable to exercise its decision-making right. Moon made the decision, and then ordered the ministry to announce it. This topdown process could be effective in implementing any decision made by the chief executive. But it might put a democratic decision-making process at risk. Any unilateral decision often proves to be a recipe for failure.
That explains why critics express worries about the sudden shift of policy, which defies an adage that education is a plan that spans as long as 100 years. An education policy should be long-term to nurture future leaders of our society and nation. Improvised and expedient measures stand little chance of success.
It would be wrong if the Moon administration wants to help the ruling Democratic Party of Korea woo voters ahead of the April 15 general election by deciding to close the elite schools. First, the government should build a social consensus on the issue if it really wants to provide better education for students.