HUMAN RIGHTS – these are the rights we are entitled to from birth as human beings. Usually the mentioning of human rights brings up essential elements, such as nourishment and shelter. Yet what we tend to forget is that education is also an essential element. Once the right to education is violated, it violates human rights as well. That is why any violation against the right to education cannot be easily overlooked. On April 2, the students of Yonsei boldly rose up against the violation of the right to education and have demanded a specifica solution from the school. Not only at Yonsei University, but also at Korea University and Sogang University, students have recently been raising their voices for improvement of education. This month’s Campus Issue looks into the definition, current status and possible ways of fulfilling rights to education.
Definition of right to education
The traditional meaning of right to education is defined by the Standard Language Dictionary as “the right to equally receive education, the right to receive education according to one’s capabilities.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) by the UN was the first international legal instrument to acknowledge education as a basic right. In Article 26, it states that “Everyone has the right to education.” With this right as the foundation, many developing nations are expected to activate the necessary steps to provide rights to everyone. Due to lack of infrastructures, developing nations still have a long way to go until every individual is able to fully exercise his or her right to education. On the other hand, in South Korea, most students’ rights to education are protected through regular school education. Sadly, however, there are students in South Korea who are often forgotten even though they deserve their full rights to education as well; the physically challenged. The physically challenged have right as human beings to receive equal education meeting the same standards as those who do not have such obstacles.
Another concern directly related to the traditional view of the right to education is tuition fees. Those who cannot afford to pay the required tuition fees, compared to those who can, have a difficulty in receiving an equally high level of education because they are placed under financial pressure. Though higher education is not a part of compulsory education the definition of right to education notes that everyone should be able to receive equal education according to their capabilities, even those who are not affluent. University students in South Korea have often voiced their opinions against the high cost of tuitions, stating that this hinders students from receiving equal education.
Nowadays, the definition of right to education is expanding. In January of 1976, the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), declared in Article 13 that measures to literacy and improvement in the quality of education must be met and also encourage the development of systems to be pursued throughout. Thus, this expanded version of the right to education was adopted, along with the earlier definition. According to Park Dae-kwon (Prof., Dept. of Education) the right to education is a general right that encompasses the educational authority of the professors and the right to learn of the students. The right to learn, according to Dictionary of Educational Terminology, means the “right to receive the desired education and the right to demand education that is needed for the specific learning.”
The justification of the right to education to be held in this Campus Issue article settles on the most recently added definition of the right to education. The traditional sense of the right to access university education is not severely violated, though there are still who struggle with financial issues. The focus of this column on the quality of education they are receiving.
Violation of right to education: part one – the course registration
Currently there have been movements organized by university students, who voiced concerns about their rights to education being violated. The topics that were discussed in some of the recent movements from Yonsei, Korea and Sogang University were course registration, large classes and low quality of English classes. Through these top three issues that have to do with right to education, each one’s conflict, current being and possible solution will be discussed.
In Korea, course registration often violates the right to education because it obstructs the students’ rights to course selection. Students are entitled to the right of course selection meaning the right to be educated by the subjects wanted by each student. For students to be able to fully exercise the right to course selection, suitable procedures for course registration are essential because registering for a course is the first step in gaining thorough knowledge about what each student would like to learn. However, because this very first step of choosing what courses to take causes hardships among students and discourages them from taking the courses they want, the course registration system already violates the students’ right to course selection.
Currently course registrations in South Korea are compared to wars because the registration for the entire semester is completed in less than two minutes. Usually, the process consists of having the wanted classes organized into an online list from which the student clicks the name of the course in order to register for it. However the problem is that there is a selected day and selected hour when all students of the selected grade compete against each other. The whole process ends so quickly because all courses have a limit in the number of students that can register for the course; the highly competitive race declares the winner right away. For many classes in Korean universities, the supply of classes is extremely short compared to the demand. Popular courses, especially, have higher competition. For example, at Yonsei University, courses such as Introduction to Economics and Contemporary Society and Psychology show a competition of up to 1:40.
With such a high demand, what is the solution? Course registrations do not resemble a war in universities overseas; we may look to them to find a solution. First of all, some universities abroad have a more realistic number of classes that meets the demands of the students; when a student fails to register for the wanted course; good alternative courses are ready and waiting. For example, in the United States, students can usually register for all of their desired courses without having to plead with their professors or gamble on the period of adding and dropping courses; the number of classes opened actually meets the demands of the students. To specifically give an example, the University of Oklahoma allows each student to send in a list of wanted courses to the manager, where support staff will recommend replacement courses for the ones the student is unable to register.There is also an overseas university that has its students facing similar tensions as students in South Korea during the registration period. However in the case of Singapore Management University, the school provides students with fake money through which they can bid up to four classes, giving students a second chance to mend their failed schedules. This means that the students exchange their less-wanted classes for classes they really need or want. Just as these examples, students in universities overseas can register for the wanted courses, almost a 100% of the time all with the help of the school.
Violation of right to education: part two – the quality
Apart from the difficulties in choosing courses, the next issue deals with the actual classes. First of all, large classes violate the right to education because it often lowers quality. When hundreds of students listen to a lecture from one professor, the communication between each individual student and the teacher is bound to diminish. This then causes the professor to teach by rote and the chances for interactions and communication between the professor and students decreases. Gwak Ju-yeong (Soph., Dept. of Russian Language & Literature) has expressed complaints by saying how the professors do not even know the names of students, and there are simply too many students for a single professor to handle. Seminars would be definitely impossible. Not only so, but also there were students like Choi Dong-in (Jr., Dept. of Education) who revealed opinions such as, due to the great number of students, the tests tend to be multiple choice, which as a result makes students study through simple memorization. This is unsatisfying because simple memorization is far from the level of education, university students are supposed to receive.
Sadly, Yonsei University is notorious for having the most number of large classes out of 173 universities in South Korea. Seoul Shinmun, on March 27, 2014, revealed that there were 246 classes at Yonsei with more than 100 to 200 students and 54 classes with more than 200 students. In addition, section 1 of Article 6 of the University Establishment and Operational Regulations, states that universities must follow the standards of the organizational degree of completion to secure the number of students per teacher in each college. Hence in every college, the humanities and sociology college requires 1 professor to take charge of less than 26 students, natural sciences, engineering and art, music and physical education college should not exceed 20 and 8 in medical colleges. At Yonsei University, however, the report of *School press* of April 26th of 2012 revealed that there were 38.6 students per professor in the Humanities and Sociology Colleges, 18.8 in the Natural Sciences Colleges and 33.2 in the Engineering Colleges.
The supposed solution for this issue is to either enlarge the number of professors or cut down the large classes into ones that meet the terms of the University Establishment and Operational Regulations. For example, since one professor of humanities and sociology colleges must take care of 25 students, Yonsei University must cut the class down to 13.6 less students, since there are a total of 38.6 students. The case is the same for engineering colleges, where the number of students per teacher must be cut down to 13.2 less students.
The next issue with classes is regarding the courses conducted in English. Some classes are opened in English because the material of the classes may be more effective when taught in English. However in order for these classes to be effective, the material must first be fully understood by the student. When the teacher’s language skill is poor, students cannot understand the class material, making the class completely ineffective. If students do not understand the class itself due to poor language skills, how could it possibly be effective? Quite a number of students have expressed their complaints on this matter. For example, according to a survey done by Yonsei University’s 51st Students’ Union, Solution, the majority of the students answered that they were somewhat satisfied with classes conducted in English, but the combining of those who answered that they were generally not satisfied and completely unsatisfied was a total of 53%. Languages can be huge obstacles in cases such as these, especially when the education itself is hindered by it.
As for the spring semester of the year 2014, the Academic Support Team of Yonsei University has said that there are a total of 931 classes held in English. The percentage of courses conducted in English compared to all of the classes opened at Yonsei University was 33.1%. In the case of English courses, however, there are clear reasons why the university must implement them. Yonsei Chunchu’s report about classes in English reveals that at Yonsei University, professors must conduct 24 credits of classes to be promoted to a higher position within six years after the appointment, all based on the national rules of operation used for the evaluation of achievements.
The probable solution for this case presented by Solution is to abolish the mandatory establishment of classes held in English and hold a fixed number of English classes instead, that must be taught in English. Choi, who is very much interested in the university educational system, speculated that English classes are open, in order to tag along with the globalizing generation. Hence, the solution would be to wait until English is popularized among the public even more. In addition, Park gave another suggestion that calls for the school to provide the professors whose mother tongues are not English some sort of support language program, such as English clinics. Also, adding a category to the teacher assessment, where students can assess the teachers’ language skills, will also prove to be an honest measurement for the teachers’ skills. Currently, it can be said that there is no official measuring stick of the professors’ English skills.
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Perhaps these solutions might sound like they may solve everything, but education is not a simple problem. As John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This is why as students we cannot sit still while our rights to education are being violated. No more time must be wasted while the tools of our lives are rusting away in front of our eyes. Simply faulting the administration cannot be an excuse. It is time to declare our rights to education completely and surely.