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Students need balance too

Nov 12,2018
KIM NAM-JUNG
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

American futurist Alvin Toffler has a connection with Korean education. He met Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Park Geun-hye and advised them on educational direction. In 2007, he came to Korea and had a discussion with 100 students. When he passed away in 2016, the questions he had posed on Korean education were highlighted. They contain some painful points. He said in 2007 that Korean students spend 15 hours a day in school and after-school classes, wasting time on knowledge that is not needed for jobs that won’t exist in the future.

Around this time, partly influenced by his criticism, voices calling for education with breaks grew. In 2008, attempts to restrict private academies from offering late-night classes and requiring them to close on certain days were made, but the industry resisted fiercely. In five cities and provinces, including Seoul and Gyeonggi, late-night classes were restricted, but required closure was scrapped. At every opportunity, such as educational superintendent elections or presidential elections, in the last ten years, civic groups have called for the introduction of laws making private academies close on certain days, but those regulations have never materialized.

A few days ago, Cho Hee-yeon, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, proposed the Sunday closure of private academies again. In the white paper for education policy in Seoul, he said that students should be able to rest fully at least on Sunday to ensure their healthy physical and psychological growth. Students in Korea study the longest among OECD member countries. According to last year’s OECD Students’ Well-Being Report, 23.2 percent of students responded that they study more than 60 hours per week in and outside of school, nearly twice the OECD average of 13.3 percent. Sangmyung University professor Kim Young-cheol published a report last year which states that 40 percent of regular high school students and 51 percent of specialized and independent high school students take private academy classes on Sundays for four to five hours on average.

Many parents hope for a society where their children don’t have to go to class on Sundays. Last year, the Korea Society Opinion Institute’s survey showed that 71.3 percent of middle school parents and 62.9 percent of high school parents support the introduction of Sunday closures for private academies. Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education Research and Information Center’s survey showed that 78 percent of middle and high school students say that they need to rest for at least one day a week instead of studying every day.

The 52-hour workweek is being implemented because adults need a work-life balance, yet students still live without weekends. It is pathetic that a law has to be made for Sunday closure, but it can certainly be done if students and parents wish. It takes more than Cho’s efforts — it requires legislation. The Ministry of Education and politicians need to work together. Of course, the obvious fix would be to strengthen public education to reduce the demand for private academies in the first place.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 9, Page 35