An article published in The Korea Herald on Oct. 6 caught my attention. The story cited a survey that shows the level of respect for teachers in South Korea ranked 4th among OECD member countries.
It said only 10 percent of respondents answered that students really respect teachers. This figure is the lowest among 21 nations which participated in a study published by a non-profit global education organization, the Varkey GEMS Foundation.
What I find particularly shocking is that we Koreans consider teachers to be a group of people who just impart what they know to students for their livelihood, not a group of educators who take responsibility for their students and prevent them from taking the wrong track in life.
This report shows that the power of public education has sharply decreased in Korea.
Why have we gotten this astonishing survey result in Korea, where parents are crazy about their children getting into prestigious universities?
It’s easy to find the reason why. A great deal of money is spent on private cram schools and private education institutes. The education industry is divided into a private market and a public one.
Data compiled by Statistics Korea shows that around 19 trillion won ($18 billion) was spent on private education in 2012. Even though this amount has decreased over the past three years, we still find that 69.4 percent of all primary and secondary students took at least one private lesson throughout the year.
Many of the students these days do not feel the need to concentrate on public education since there are all kinds of institutes which take the place of regular teachers.
Out education fever and high dependence on private education has led us to disrespect our public school teachers.
Still, the education system in Korea has been highly evaluated by many other countries. U.S president Barak Obama praised Korea several times in a speech, mentioning Korean parents’ enthusiasm about their children’s education.
On the other hand, some educators have criticized the excessive competition, dubbing it a “rat-race.”
Nowadays, it is easy to find articles and news reports that deal with the problem of class management. More than half of the students in class doze off and use their cellphones despite continuous warnings from the teachers.
This type of disrespectful behavior, which interrupts the class, might be avoided if the teachers were admired. Realistically, it is impossible to make private education illegal for the purpose of increasing our dependence on public education.
People’s enthusiasm for better education can hardly be criticized. However, the main places to go for education should be the public schools, not the private institutions. In other words, students and parents should make public school education their main priority. Only when the public education system gains their trust will we stop seeing ridiculous survey results, like those showing that Korean parents want their children to be teachers and yet do not respect teachers.
The only way to improve our opinions about teachers will be to provide high quality education which makes students feel that private education is unnecessary. It would be invaluable if the number of positive responses to survey questions like the one mentioned increases, for then we would be able to say that more people have begun to trust public education. Now is the time for people to become crazy not just about private education, but about public education.
By Kim Hee-yeon
Kim Hee-yeon is a third-year English education student at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. ― Ed.