Ministry of Education, The Term Paper (Part 4)
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The Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology
All MEST up?
A staggering number of Koreans choose to educate their children abroad, most of them sending their children to western countries such as Canada, the United States and New Zealand. These consumers of primary education vote with their pocketbooks, often spending a very large portion of their income to do so. In order to look at the ways in which the South Korean education system as managed by the Ministry of Education fails to serve the public to its satisfaction, it is essential to compare the Ministry to the education ministries of the systems with which it competes.
The Ministry of Education has a very complex stated vision, described above. One is struck by the lack of overt vision statements on the websites of competing educational authorities, defined here narrowly as those of the U.S., Canada and New Zealand. In these cases the mission of the education system is unstated, implying a societal consensus on the basic elements of a high quality education. The case of the United States Department of Education is highly illustrative. No Child Left Behind is the Bush administration’s education reform policy initiative. Enacted in 2001, No Child Left Behind Act details a suite of regulations designed to close a perceived educational gap between the rich and poor in America. Early childhood education is stressed as essential to the prevention of greater learning difficulties at later stages. The program stresses parental choice. School and teacher evaluation scores are made more accessible to parents, and school mobility is encouraged as both a means to improve children’s chances for a high quality education and as an impetus for change at failing schools. Private schools are placed in greater competition with public schools. The program has attempted to apply the principles of the marketplace to the American public education system, an effort that many in the system have reacted negatively to. No Child Left Behind is a politically motivated policy which applies a Republican worldview to education. Nonetheless, for our purposes it is more relevant to note the aspects of the education system that the policy does not address. No Child Left Behind is concerned only with the means by which educational excellence is achieved. The definition of what constitutes educational excellence is left an unquestioned given. The same is true of other Department of Education programs, including the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), which ‘aims to strengthen education in the U.S. by improving math and science education, foreign language studies, and high schools.’ The initiative stresses math, science and foreign language education without calling into question the fundamentals of what education is all about.
Korea’s Ministry of Education is also unique in that its website prominently features a message board-style comment function, through which the public can express its opinion on individual policies. Other education ministry websites lack this feature. Ironically, the Ministry’s relatively low-traffic bulletin board is likely the least active venue for discussion about MEST policy, with the majority of this discussion being played out in the papers, the National Assembly and in countless homes and offices.
The list of features that all of these education systems share and Korea’s system lacks include a holistic approach to education, a focus on critical thinking and creativity, and a commitment to a well-rounded liberal arts education as a foundation for further studies. If these things are so in demand among those Koreans most able to afford them, why can’t they be introduced to the Korean education system?