South Korea: Schools must 'share pain of collapse'

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
Tough austerity measures implemented in schools as part of the country's response to economic collapse will undermine education, teachers say.

Under the national thrift campaign, in which everyone is expected to share the pain of stringent financial cutbacks, schools are being asked to cut costs in every possible way. These include using old pencils and getting children to wear sweaters in the classroom so that heating can be turned down to save on fuel bills. Many pupils are already walking or cycling to school rather than taking buses or trains.

Further measures are likely to include cuts to educational supplies such as equipment and books. Some teachers are expected to lose their jobs while others will be forced to take pay cuts.

But the South Korean education system is already a low-spending one and many teachers say major cutbacks will seriously damage the quality of education.

Redundancies and pay cuts, and perhaps the end of the idea of jobs for life, will undermine the teaching profession and prove detrimental to staff morale, according to one teacher at a high school in Seoul.

Low spending on computers and other high-tech learning and teaching equipment is already being criticised for hampering the country's development as a high-tech society.

Investment in education was responsible for South Koreas transformation from one of the world's poorest countries to its 11th richest economy, a leading newspaper reminded its readers. To make major cuts in education is to attack the country's life-blood, it said.

South Koreans repeatedly outperform pupils from most other countries in international tests of academic attainment.

But the nature and extent of the economic collapse has also fuelled demands for major reform of the education system. Critics say the present commitment to rote learning and memory work does not produce the innovative geniuses the country now requires.

The country's hardship has also brought a new wave of patriotism. Foreign foods have been removed from school menus and overseas education trips have been cancelled.

Young South Koreans are also being urged to study hard for their country and to help revive the national economy by buying fewer foreign goods and more South Korean ones.

Leading academics are warning that excessive patriotism can lead to unhealthy nationalism which will undermine South Korea's globalisation programme and hinder the country's development as an international industrial and trading power.

There is one cut that has been welcomed by teachers, parents and academics alike. With television companies reducing output by two hours each night, children now have more time to spend on homework.

John Greenlees

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