firmly in place has been confirmed through an abundance of historical evidence.
A curfew on private cram shools cannot succeed
Effectiveness of the Hagwon curfew
Municipal governments have cracked down on overcharges, breach of curfew, unregistered hagwons and tutoring centres. The reward system for tipsters, also known as "hakparazzi" (hakwon plus paparazzi), may be effective for the time being as they would keep hakwon owners at bay. But it's uncertain how much the crackdown will help reduce the private education.
Even if whistleblowers may contribute to the success of the curfew, the hakparazzi system has many flaws. The first problem is that the government is encouraging citizens to watch and charge their neighbours. Second, the government is imposing a crack-down on education activities as if they are criminal acts. Third, the curfew is a violation of the freedom of business guaranteed by the constitution.
Although the authorities say the target is hakwons, the real victims are students and tutors. It will be hard for young kids to understand that their teachers are subject to the authorities' crackdown only because they teach more hours at a profit-seeking institute. And how can we explain that their study induces illegal acts, which leads to the punishment of those running the private classes.
It's also not sensible to punish only the lectures given after the curfew. Who can trust a government that suddenly cracks down on activities permitted so far? The law banning an act only because it's done after the arbitrary curfew time cannot be respected from the people. This policy is one of the present government's major mistakes.
Perils of populism-oriented education policy
Why has the government introduced such an unrealistic policy? It's because the government, shocked by the strong public protests, abandoned its promise to reduce its role and respect the market principles, curtail the soaring taxes and lift unfair regulations over businesses to strengthen the foundation for the economic growth and instead shifted its policy stance towards the "middle," rather than trying to find fundamental solutions.
The government and ruling party has poured a series of measures to crack down private education. Some policy measures have been implemented or set to carry out while others have been voted down. The ruling party's think-tank Yeoido Research Institute proposed seven countermeasures at a policy debate over "how to win the war against private education that threatens the economy of the poor and middle class" held on June 26. The proposals included a curfew on cram schools for middle- and high-school students, an evaluation system for teachers, an expansion of schools specialised in arts and sports, a free after-school English class, a full use of EBSi to support classes at elementary and middle schools, etc. But those measures have faced criticism and it's hard to say whether they could survive the strong oppositions.
The curfew has attracted firm support from politicians. A ruling party lawmaker at the Yeoido seminar called for stricter regulation if needed, saying that it's a dogma to oppose the regulation on the ground that the President Lee Myung-bak government backs self-discipline. He proposed that the central government needs to step in as the curfew has been slack under the municipal governments' jurisdiction.
However, the move to enforce the curfew through legislation has hit a snag as some people pointed out that it has some unconstitutional elements. But it's apparent that the education policy goal of the current government has been changing. President Lee Myung-bak adopted "self-discipline and competition" for its education policy in order to revive the public education and improve the competitiveness of universities.
Curtailing private education should not become the goal of education policy
But as the government has begun to view education from the perspective of the poor's life, the policy goal of "self-discipline and competition" has lost steam. It would be impossible for the government to completely ignore the heavy burden of ballooning private education costs on the poor. But the countermeasures should be effective and must not be against more important social values. Therefore, we have to review whether the government policy or system is ethically desirable and can succeed in achieving its goal.
Curtailing private education cannot become the goal of education policy. It would be great that a good education policy results in a cut in private education costs but the cost reduction itself should not be the primary policy goal. The objective of education is to help students live a desirable and happy life. To this end, education quality should be enhanced, schools should be diversified, and excellence education for brilliant students should be introduced. Then it requires self-discipline and competition. Self-discipline itself entails moral value and can be useful in upgrading the quality of education.
The current government has taken a step away from self-discipline and closer to regulation and control for the political, economic, and social causes. The previous governments, including the past two egalitarian regimes, made a number of attempts to crack down on private education through regulations and controls, regardless of their ideological beliefs. The most authoritarian government put a complete ban on private tutoring in the early 1980s only in vain. Few cases have succeeded in reducing private education and realizing equal education through policy measures and tight controls.
According to government data, household spending on private education has been rising every year. The Munwha Ilbo newspaper reported on July 24 that South Koreans spent a total of 20.9095 trillion won for private lessons in 2008, nearly double from 2001. Taking into account "underground" private lessons, the spending could be more than double. Furthermore, the number of cram schools has increased steadily.
What the government has to do is to improve the quality of public education
Now, we have to admit the fact that we cannot abolish private education with any policy measures. Private education will never wither away in any policy means. It has prospered not because of a wrong policy system but due to elements that can never be controlled by the government in a liberal society. One of them is the parents and students' passion to get more education, go to better school and succeed more than others. A unique cultural aspect of our society has also played a role. Under the circumstances, there is little that the government can do about private education.
Losing all the battles against private education, the government should admit the characteristics of private education and stop its war against it. As all wars leave many casualties, the government's war against private education has a number of ill effects. It has sent many students into a great confusion and deeper stress. Furthermore, it creates more distrust about the government policy in education area, denting into the people's trust in the government.
There is no measure to counter private education. There exists no such a vaccine that can cure all the educational problems at once. All we can do is to wait for a waning of the educational zeal and a change in the people's view on "desirable education" so that the parents and students no longer want private education. Private education is beyond educational problem and is driven by the characteristics of our society and culture. As long as the social environment and the people's mind do not change, private education will not disappear.
The best way is for the government not to intervene at all but it won't be probably easy. Then, the government should reduce its role to a minimum. First, the government should find the real causes of private education and persuade the people that the fundamental problem is not a flawed policy. They have to help the citizens realize that private education does not stem from structural paradox of educational system but from the people's desire and will.
Furthermore, the government should improve the quality of public education to give more chances for those isolated from private education. The government's duty is not to fight against private education and achieve a victory for public education but to upgrade the public education. As the government is in charge of running and supervising public schools with taxpayers' money, public servants are obliged to offer more satisfactory educational services to the people by using the resources available in the most effective manner.
By Shin Jung-sup / Professor of ethics education at Kangwon University