The Korea Herald


Ministry vows to combat false ads, irregularities in private education

Korea to enhance teachers’ rights; minister says public school quality has declined

By Park Jun-hee

Published : June 21, 2023 - 15:48

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Education Minister Lee Ju-ho speaks during a press briefing at the Government Complex Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap) Education Minister Lee Ju-ho speaks during a press briefing at the Government Complex Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Education Minister Lee Ju-ho said Wednesday the ministry will start receiving reports on irregularities in the private education industry as part of education reforms aimed at reducing the nation’s reliance on private schools and academies.

The reports received by the Education Ministry will cover speculations over former test examiners providing private academies with insider information about the national college entrance exam, as well as cases of false advertising.

Announcing a set of measures to strengthen public education in Korea, the government will seek to enhance teachers’ rights and ensure that students have a basic level of scholastic ability, which it believes has deteriorated over the last three years.

The ministry is also set to roll out specific measures to reduce private education expenses on Monday.

Regarding concerns over the ministry’s recent drive to adjust the level of difficulty of Suneung, the nation’s college entrance exam, by excluding so-called “killer questions,” Lee said he “strongly believes” that the decision will “bolster public education.”

Concerns have been growing that the new measures will in fact trigger more spending on private education as private academies develop new courses, allot more time to prepare students for Suneung and provide more after-school activities.

Addressing mounting public concern over the administration’s proposed changes to Suneung with the test just five months away, Lee urged for public confidence in the government’s education reform drive, stressing that there is nothing to worry about.

“We will absorb the demand for private education within public education through innovation in public education. Parents will not have to bear the brunt of resorting to private education if Suneung only contains material taught in class. Also, (public schools) will offer sports and fine arts,” Lee said.

The minister added that hardworking students should be assessed based on what they’ve learned in class, saying that the ministry is committed to reducing excessive spending on private education.

“Suneung’s ‘killer questions’ have only created more anxiety for parents and students,” Lee said, referring to test questions that require high levels of knowledge and private education. He added that the education system has been fraught with problems for decades.

According to the measures on bolstering the role of public education, the minister said it would seek ways to strengthen teachers’ rights to guarantee them more freedom in classrooms, and that educational diagnoses will be conducted for students in critical stages of their education.

The educational quality in public schools has sharply declined over the years, only widening the gap between educational opportunities and driving students to receive private education, according to the ministry.

“At a time when society is making a digital shift and confronting the low birth rate, it’s pivotal to improve the competitiveness in public education and nurture every student that has the talent to solve social problems and help them contribute to the country’s development,” Lee said at a press briefing.

Measures that shield teachers from civil and criminal liabilities will be revised to reduce indiscriminate child abuse reports filed against teachers.

With the reforms, the country will take responsibility for teaching basic scholastic abilities and cultivating students’ characters. Teachers will also shoulder a key role in looking after students’ social and emotional well-being when AI digital textbooks come into play in 2025.

Using AI-developed textbooks will also distance teaching professionals from parental complaints and having to work on curriculum development, Lee claims.

In line with this change, students will benefit from a diverse learning environment and new classroom materials, taking a turn away from the current rote memorization-based climate, which would reduce dependency on private education. The ministry explained that the new measures will pave the way for creating a “happier” learning environment, adding that a growing number of students are calling for enhanced educational experiences.

Only 57.2 percent of middle and high school students answered “yes” when they were asked if they were satisfied with existing educational content, according to the ministry. Also, data showed that 84.3 percent of students think public education fails to provide adequate and efficient education, which is why they resort to private education for enriched academic opportunities.

Students in grades three and seven will be categorized as pupils in a “critical period for growth and learning” and will receive an educational diagnosis, where schools can learn to cater to the needs and abilities of students, keeping their emotional competencies in mind. The diagnostic assessment is designed to inform students and parents about a student’s academic performance, and the ministry plans to provide systematic support for students and teachers based on the results.

So-called “elite high schools” will not be abolished. Such schools include foreign-language schools, private schools and international schools that were subject to becoming public schools by March 2025 under the former Moon Jae-in administration over concerns that they lead to social and class inequalities.

Instead, the ministry will instruct such schools to select students from diverse regions and backgrounds, ensuring educational opportunities for parents and students nationwide.