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   [EDITORIAL] Failing grades
   2769    2010-03-08
Source : The Korea Herald

Editorial

8, Mar. 2010

Once again Seoul ranked at the bottom of a nation-wide standardized test measuring elementary, middle and high school students' academic achievement.

Except for Gangnam, Mok-dong and Junggye - districts where parents spend a lot on private cram schools - Seoul's middle and high schools had the highest percentage of students who failed to meet the basic achievement level in Korean, English, mathematics, science and social studies. Sixth-grade students, third-year middle school students and first-year high school students participated in the testing.

Among sixth-graders in Seoul, 1.5 percent failed to meet the national standard while 9 percent of third-year middle school students and 9.3 percent of first-year high school students failed to meet the standard. Nationwide, 1.6 percent of sixth-graders did not meet the national standard while 7.2 percent of third-year middle school students and 5.9 percent of first year high-school students failed to meet the standard. The results will be analyzed by experts and a final report produced by September, according to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

Looking at the results in Seoul, the gap between the performance by students in districts traditionally known for the residents' high-spending on cram schools and other districts is glaringly apparent. For example, 94.8 percent of Gangnam elementary school students performed above average in English, only 0.6 percent failing to meet the basic standard. On the other hand, 81.6 percent of Dongbu district elementary school students performed above average in English while 2.5 failed to meet the basic standard.

While there are many variables that influence a student's academic achievement, such as the parents' income and education level, it would not be too far-fetched to observe that private education - meaning cram schools - is picking up where public education is failing.

The failings of public education have been noted for quite some time. Critics point out that in the effort to "equalize" education for all, schools have failed to challenge bright students and failed to assist poorly-performing students. Lackadaisical teachers have also been blamed for failing to motivate and teach students.

However, in discussing the failures of public education, the ongoing investigation into the allegations of widespread bribery at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education cannot be left out. Prosecutors have launched a full-scale investigation into suspected corruption at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. The Board of Audit and Inspection earlier discovered that a senior official at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education had manipulated job evaluations to promote 26 officials, including 15 school principals and two senior supervisors.

This is just the latest scandal at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. Last October, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education Superintendent Gong Jeong-taek was forced to resign after the discovery of irregularities in campaign financing. Gong is once again under investigation in connection with the latest bribery allegation.

The allegations of widespread corruption and abuse of power at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education reveal an organization that is rotten to the core. What are our children to learn from these "educators?" What kind of education can such a dysfunctional education office offer? It is time for a complete revamp of the education office.

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