It may seem too restrictive, or even nonsensical, to punish schools for teaching students what is beyond the scope of the regular curriculum set by education authorities.
That was what lawmakers did last week. They passed a bill banning proactive teaching at schools and any form of test that requires students to study beyond their curriculum. Any school or teacher found to have broken the law, which is to take effect in September, will be subject to stern disciplinary action.
The fact that the legislative measure was met with little public objection says a lot about the problems with the country’s education system and environment.
Proactive learning has characterized education in Korea, where students are driven into fierce competition to enter prestigious universities. This practice has resulted in excessive private tutoring, which in turn has deteriorated public education and put a heavy financial burden on households, most of which are reeling under increasing debts.
Figures released by Statistics Korea last week showed the widening gap in education spending between high-income and low-income households. Families in the highest 20 percent income bracket spent 504,300 won ($470) per month on educating children last year, 6.58 times the expenditure by the lowest 20 percent group.
It is worrisome that income inequality results in unequal opportunities for children to receive high-quality education, leading to the exacerbation of social and economic polarization. This vicious circle would weaken the vitality of society, blocking upward mobility. A report by a state-run think tank showed that children from the wealthiest 10 percent of families accounted for more than 13 percent of the entrants into the country’s major prestigious universities in 2012, with the share of students from the poorest 10 percent remaining at less than 1 percent.
All efforts should be made to break or weaken the strengthening link between income inequality and disparate opportunities for education.
The legislative move to ban proactive teaching seems insufficient and wrong-footed. The focus of policy should be put on enhancing the level of education at public schools and support for students from low-income families. University officials as well as education policymakers should also have a sense of urgency on the need to guarantee a more effective balance of opportunities between students from different classes.