In some ways, high school students in Korea may be the most pitiable teenagers in the world. With their one and only goal being entering prestigious universities, these youth have to study 20 hours a day, 365 days a year. Due to the severe competition and its serious side effects, the system of college entrance changes whenever a new administration or even a new education minister arrives. The Roh Moo-hyun administration has just announced a new system, the 15th in 60 years.
The new scheme, to be implemented from 2008, places more weight on high-school records while reducing the importance of tests of scholastic ability. Its stated purpose of enhancing the creative learning abilities of students by normalizing school education while also curbing costly off-campus tutoring is commendable. As past experience shows, however, the latest revision will achieve only limited success in addressing relevant problems as long as the fundamental social structures and values remain unchanged. And even a partial solution would require detailed plans and close cooperation among all involved parties. By turning the SAT results into grades instead of scores, it would become harder for universities to differentiate between applicants. This will force universities to emphasize individual essays and interviews, which in turn would lead to more private tutoring aimed at raising scores for these subjects as well as in school exams. Another point is how effectively and objectively the already overburdened high-school teachers can handle school records free from the influence of bribing parents.
Supporters of educational elitism express concerns about a ownward equalization" of schools and students, which is not entirely groundless. But it is more urgent to address the contradictions of the current educational system, which spends 13 trillion won a year on private tutoring to produce students without creativity or the ability to think. In Korea today, the only goal of high school students is entering good universities, while for college students it is landing high-paying jobs. In this country, where one schooling determines everything, there is little room for educating democratic, humanitarian and artloving citizens.
The new proposal, though incomplete in many ways, appears to be aimed in the right direction and is worth attempting. The government should listen to views from all related circles in order to achieve a high level of technical perfection, such as in the making of school records. It also has to give universities more autonomy in selecting students. Only in this way will the government be able to gain the cooperation of local educational offices, high schools and universities, which will hold the key to the success of the proposed system.
/ By The Korea Times