The government has come up with another measure to normalize school education and curb the excessive expansion of the private education sector.
The latest step calls for banning elementary, middle and high schools from cramming into the heads of their students the stuff that they should be learning semesters or even years later.
Banning this nonsensical practice, called “advanced learning” here, was one of President Park Geun-hye’s campaign promises in the field of education. To put her pledge into practice, a ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker presented a bill, which cleared the National Assembly Thursday and will take effect from the fall semester.
The legislation will empower the Ministry of Education to punish teachers or schools that ignore the ban. It will also require universities to set entrance exam questions strictly within the scope of the high school curriculum.
The bill will also prohibit cram schools from advertising advanced learning programs. Some private institutions openly say in their ads that parents should have their elementary school children learn high school mathematics if they wish to send them to SKY, a common term for the three top universities in Korea ― Seoul National, Korea and Yonsei.
The government’s plan to curb advanced learning at school is a step in the right direction. Advanced learning in Korea is not about preparing students for tomorrow’s lessons. It is about preparing them for lessons at least one, and in some cases several, semesters away.
Why do schools engage in such a ridiculous practice? It is because a large proportion of students attend advanced learning courses at private institutions. Schools are forced to provide the same learning opportunities for students who cannot afford private education.
But this practice has a devastating effect on public education, as it compels schools to focus on cramming knowledge into the heads of students rather than helping them develop their character and creativity.
And many educational experts note cramming students with learning beyond the standard curriculum actually does not work. They say a large proportion of students who have learned their subjects in advance do not listen to their teachers in class. For them, prior learning is simply a waste of time and money.
So it is right for the government to take steps to address this uniquely Korean educational phenomenon. But whether the latest measure will be effective remains to be seen.
The greatest limitation of the bill is that it only bans schools from offering advanced learning, leaving private institutes to their own devices. Education Ministry officials say if schools do not go beyond the curriculum in teaching and assessing students, it will reduce the demand for private education.
Yet critics say it could do just the opposite. If schools do not provide advanced learning, uneasy parents could be tempted to send their children to cram schools. To them, they note, what matters is to ensure that their children get high scores on the national college entrance examination.
In this regard, cram schools are reportedly not worried about the new government initiative. They are also dismissive of the ban on advertising, noting that they have many other means to lure students.
The Education Ministry will have to monitor the effects of the ban carefully. If it only helps cram schools prosper, it will have to come up with more effective measures.