The debate on four sets of government plans to reform the college admission system for current third-year middle school students has gone back to square one.
A group of citizens selected by the Presidential Committee on National Education to study the plans and choose one of them said Friday that none of the plans received the support of a majority.
A poll of 490 citizens in the group showed support for the two most favored plans was not statistically different, as the gap between them was within the margin of error.
However, the two have few similarities. The most favored plan makes much of the state-administered scholastic ability test, while the second emphasizes school records.
The discussion group passed the buck back to the presidential committee, which reportedly will decide how to best overhaul the admission system this week, then notify the Ministry of Education of its decision.
It is not known yet whether the committee will choose between the two plans or figure out another plan. If the committee cannot reach a conclusion, the final say will go back to the ministry, which left it up to the committee to decide on the admission system.
This result was expected to some extent when ordinary citizens were entrusted with the task of revising the college admission system. This matter demands professional knowledge and entails responsibility. In the first place, determining the college entrance system is the responsibility of the Education Ministry.
Last summer, the ministry said it would work out a new admission plan, then put it off for a year citing a lack of preparation. In April this year, it announced it would set a policy based on the plan that was most supported by citizens selected by the committee to discuss related issues.
The ministry and the committee expected public discussion to bring about a social consensus, but at the end of the day, time was wasted again.
The current college entrance system is complicated. Even many high school teachers are confused by its complexity. Expertise is required to revise it. Asking citizens to think out the best plan to revamp the system was an unreasonable idea from the start. Quite a few participants reportedly said they were called up for discussion without knowledge of the system.
As everyone thinks differently of education, it is difficult to reach a consensus. The two most favored plans each have their own advantages and disadvantages, which can hardly be compromised. The test system for college entrance has been a moot point. Still, the government pushed ahead with the decision-making process.
This public debate was much more difficult than a similar one held to determine whether the construction of nuclear reactors, Shin Kori 5 and 6, should stop or proceed. Participants faced simple choices -- to stop or not. Citizens had to review four scenarios that were not clearly different from one another. Preference could not but be dispersed across the four.
People place the task of administering public service in the hands of the government, trusting its insight and expertise. If the government asks people to decide what it should do, it is making a populist move to shift responsibility.
Whatever plan the committee recommends will inevitably cause controversy, as advocacy groups for each plan will protest strongly if it chooses what they oppose. Conflicts are expected to escalate until the final system is determined. The government cannot avoid criticism that it wasted time and fueled public distrust of its education policy.
No college entrance system can satisfy everyone. It is the government’s job to draw up a vision, make decisions accordingly and take responsibility later. People give the government power and pay taxes for it to do its job. Public discussion is not necessarily the best solution to policy issues.
The ministry must not pass the buck just because the policy issue is complicated and controversial.