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Teamwork key to winning Scholar’s Cup

Competition tests students’ skills across a range of subjects

May 28,2009
The atmosphere in the small classroom at Suyu Camp, one of several English Villages in Seoul, was tense last Saturday afternoon. Two teams, each with three students in school uniforms, were engaged in a debate concerning the major theme of the competition, “The Fallen Empire.”

The empire refers to the United States and either side offered opposite opinions about the global status of the world’s most powerful economy following the recent financial turmoil stemming from Wall Street.

They had to do their best to defeat the opposite side because they were not simply participating in a classroom activity. The debate is part of regional tournament for an annual international academic contest, The World Scholar’s Cup.

The winners - both individual and team - qualify to advance to the world finals in June in Singapore, according to Los Angeles-based DemiDec Corp. and its Korean sponsor YBM Sisa.

Daniel Berdichevsky
The world finals will have contestants from 30 countries around the world including Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States.

This year, the tournament in Korea saw 33 participants from three different middle and high schools in Seoul and its neighboring area: Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies, a foreign language high school in Yongin, Gyeonggi; Daewon Foreign Language High School in eastern Seoul; and Daechi Middle School in southern Seoul.

According to Alaina Kim, director of YBM Center for Educational Content Development, the number of participants has fallen this year probably because students are afraid of making an overseas trip due to fears of the A(H1N1) flu.

Over the course of half a day at this English village in northern Seoul, an examiner tested the contestants’ English proficiency - writing and debating - as well as general knowledge ranging from mathematics and economics to history, science and art.

The contestants were engaged in four different events - essay writing, Scholar’s Challenge, team debate and Scholar’s Bowl. The official language of the competition is English and the examiners dispatched from DemiDec were in charge of supervising and grading the contestants.

The competition started with an essay writing test that lasted one and a half hours. The topic was “Is the United States an Empire?” The organizer said the theme last year was on the “The Frontier.”

Then followed Scholar’s Challenge, a paper-based multiple-choice test with 150 questions on six subjects - science, history, visual arts, literature, mathematics and economics. The questions are modeled after the SAT in the United States, which the contestants say are helpful because most of them aim to get into Ivy League universities.

The Scholar’s Bowl, the last session of the contest, required students in teams to solve multiple-choice questions on the projection screen. When Daniel Berdichevsky, chief executive of DemiDec and the company’s founder, reads the questions aloud, one member in each team presses the buzzer after discussing with the members for up to 10 seconds. The point of the session is the team members quickly come up with a correct and unified answer.

Byun Jin-young, a third-grader at Hankuk Academy, said she has applied for the scholar’s cup to elaborate her English writing and speaking skills. “While preparing for this challenge, I could gain extensive knowledge about a range of academic subjects. I believe the experience of participating in this kind of event will be useful if I get to attend a prestigious university abroad,” she said. Park Hyeon-jun, a second-grader from Daewon, said he wants to get into Columbia University and later become a diplomat.

Berdichevsky flew from the company’s U.S. headquarters to stay through the test. He said although there are a number of English debating contests in Korea, the World Scholar’s Cup is distinguished because it gives the participants a chance to test leadership skills, teamwork and common knowledge.

“The World Scholar’s Cup isn’t about specialization in a single subject. It’s about teamwork, thinking on your feet and a willingness to learn new things,” he said.

In fact, the young CEO was once one of such contestants. The team he belonged to hit an all-time highest score in the U.S. Academic Decathlon in 1978. The record was broken in 2008.

He created the World Scholar’s Cup in 2006 because he wanted to see a team-oriented international competition. Most importantly, the participants can forge new contacts around the world and benefit from a unique team-based learning opportunity, he said.

The eventual winner of the Korea round of the cup was Daewon Foreign Language High School. The team advances to the world final in Singapore in June.


By Lee Min-yong, Seo Ji-eun [smartpower@joongang.co.kr]


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