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Opening Remarks by President Moon Jae-in at Ministerial Meeting on Education Reform

Source : Cheong Wa Dae

(Unofficial translation)

Upholding the value of fairness in education is the people’s desperate demand. The Government must take it to heart. Our education system faces a crisis of trust. There is a growing sense of loss among the public with education now seen as having been reduced to a means for parents to hand down their socio-economic status and privilege to their children.

It is impossible to talk about forward-looking educational innovation while sidestepping the harsh and grave assessment of the people who say that Korea’s educational system is unfair. The most important task in education reform at this juncture is to restore public trust through a fair education system.

We should begin by establishing impartiality in the college admission system since it draws the most public attention. It is truly a difficult issue, indeed. There are intertwined interests, conflicting values and a disconnect between ideals and reality. Previous administrations made extensive efforts to enhance the fairness of college admissions. They followed the opinions of many specialists in education and adopted diverse student recruitment mechanisms that reflect applicants’ different talents and aptitudes, a departure from test-score-oriented evaluations.

However, the early admission process which currently focuses primarily on the comprehensive screening of school records, comprised of both academic performance and non-academic extracurricular activities, has failed to gain public trust in terms of fairness. Despite its purported aim of having students recruited on the basis of comprehensive considerations of individual gifts and personal inclinations, rather than cookie-cutter evaluations of only academic records, the hard truth is that questions have continued to be raised about its fairness and public distrust is growing.

Under the current system, such external factors as parents’ background, abilities and high school alma maters, rather than the student applicants’ capabilities and endeavors, decisively determine college admission results. Worse yet, its procedures are so opaque that it is even referred to as a completely dark process. The lack of fairness hidden within the system has led to a vicious cycle of inequality in which privileges are passed down generation after generation, making it hard for everyone to trust the outcomes. The will of the people that privilege and injustice should not be tolerated any longer, even if they are not unlawful, must be respected.

Consequently, for the sake of fairness in the college entrance evaluation process, we should prioritize drastically improving the system with regard to the comprehensive screening of students’ academic and non-academic records, including extra-curricular activities. Along with these efforts to improve fairness and transparency related to school records - the key materials in the screening process - we also need a way to ensure that universities operate the system transparently.

I urge you to formulate a persuasive plan for improving the system and present it to the public before the end of this November by thoroughly carrying out the on-going fact-finding investigation and meticulously analyzing the findings.

I also urge all of you to maintain a steady perspective when pursuing the following two tasks: One is to streamline the admission system to make it easily understood by everyone in line with the commonly held opinion that simple things are the fairest, and the other is to provide the socially vulnerable more opportunities for college education.

The practice of ranking high schools by their placement records is one of the reasons that the early admission system is seen as unfair and just one more example of privilege in academia. The de facto list of schools with autonomous private, foreign language and “global” high schools ranked above all others has engendered distrust of the early admission system’s fairness. This has also caused educational inequality by increasing exorbitant competition, private accelerated learning and the burden of hefty education expenses. In addition, college entrance-centered education has put general high schools at a disadvantage.

We cannot afford to delay the resolution of this problem any longer. Though this matter also involves sharply diverging interests, it must be addressed without fail.

In order to rectify the phenomenon of ranking high schools by their placement records and make general high schools emerge as the center of high school education, multi-faceted policy efforts must be underpinned. We will have to provide education that enhances academic excellence in line with students' aptitude and learning abilities and also provide customized education that takes future career paths into consideration.

Public education should be drastically strengthened to keep private education expenses from rising. I hope the Government will prioritize public education and push for drastically enhanced educational competence at general high schools, for instance, by hiring more highly skilled teachers and establishing forward-looking schools.

It is not desirable to expand the proportion of students accepted through early admissions under the current situation where there is tremendous distrust of the comprehensive screening of students’ academic and non-academic records. It can only be possible once the school records are seen as unbiased and transparent and the universities’ screening process is trusted. We know that regular admissions based solely on College Scholastic Ability Test scores will not solve all the problems, but for now, we still have to listen to the voices of students facing college admission and parents who are saying regular admissions are relatively fairer than early admissions.

After all, the key issue is that highly competitive, leading universities in Seoul that have a lot of influence regarding college admissions are recruiting an excessively high number of students through the comprehensive screening of their academic and non-academic records, given that this process lacks credibility. Their intentions may have been to find good students, but regardless, the process has resulted in damaging confidence in the college admission process. Self-examination is needed in that regard.

To solve this problem, the Government has recommended that these universities maintain a certain minimum level of regular admissions, but this is not enough from the people’s point of view. I hope that major universities in Seoul will play a central role in coming up with ways as soon as possible to resolve the excessive imbalance between early and regular admissions until early admissions come to be seen as trustworthy.

We also need to pay special attention to the paths taken by high school graduates who do not enter college. The Government has already put in place plans to promote their employment and ways to complement the field training of vocational high school students. We’ve also allocated increased funds for vocational training in next year’s budget, but these measures are still far from sufficient from the students’ perspectives. I ask you to incentivize promising companies to get them to provide field training and jobs for high school graduates. I also call upon you to – as soon as possible – devise and support programs that will drastically expand opportunities for vocational high school graduates to find jobs first and later, if desired, attend college.

To protect students’ safety, rights and interests, I ask for close pan-government cooperation to make visible changes not only from the Ministry of Education but also the ministries of Economy and Finance; Employment and Labor; Industry, Trade and Energy; and SMEs and Startups.

In conclusion, I feel that this is a very important matter. Fairness in education can only be truly achieved when it leads to impartiality in the hiring process. I also ask you to collectively pursue pan-government efforts to find ways to secure fairness in employment going forward.

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