[EDITORIAL] Limits of Standardized Education

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[EDITORIAL] Limits of Standardized Education

The special report published Monday by IHT-JAI on the fate of a large number of children that were singled out as gifted by the government 15 years ago sheds light on the stark reality of our educational system. Many became mediocre students, maladjusted in the present school system. It is especially shocking to learn that some gifted children have not had the opportunity to get even basic education.

The primary responsibility for not having properly nurtured gifted children falls on the government, which neglected follow-up measures to ensure the full development of their special abilities. Its efforts went only as far as selecting 144 children between the ages 3 and 6 through exams that tested their talents and intellectual ability in 1985, calling the parents to Seoul, educating them and mailing them educational material for the children. Even that modest program ended with the change of government in 1988. The government was amazed by the genius of the gifted children but seemingly not interested in ensuring that they grew up to become great assets to our society.

But the fundamental reason for the degeneration from gifted to mediocre lies in our education's structural problems. Presently, our educational system is based on mathematical egalitarianism. It ignores the qualitative differences between students and schools and insists on standardization at lower levels. It is therefore only natural that children who have mastered 1,000 Chinese characters at an early age end up losing interest in school life when asked to write the simple "Good morning, mother" in Korean over and over. The special high schools that were established as the only measure to complement standardization are not functioning properly. Changing college admission policies lowered the chances of these schools' graduates entering college, which in turn caused many students to withdrawing from them. Further, the introduction of an independent private school system has been postponed from next year to 2003.

The 21st century is an era of science, technology, and information and of fierce competition. In order for us to come out victors in this era, we must develop as many internationally competent and capable people as possible. However, developing such talent is not possible in the present educational system, which turns gifted children into mediocre ones. Industrialized countries began to pour their energies into educating gifted children since the second half of the 1970s. The U.S. government even has a special $10 million fund to search out gifted children, not only among the top 3-5 percent of academic performers, but also from among children from poor family backgrounds. Certain states are even including the top 30 percent of students among their pools of children being evaluated in order not to miss a single gifted child.

We should also build an educational system that is capable of rearing competent people. For this effort to be successful, we must first of all get rid of leveling reforms of an egalitarian nature. Instead, diversity and excellence should be openly acknowledged. For this, we must first scrap regulations that constrict special high schools if we want them to function properly. Independent private high schools should also be introduced expeditiously, and a competitive system for schools and students should be provided to endow greater independence of private education. As long as we tenaciously hold on to standardization at mediocrity, our educational system may not be able to overcome its present state of underdevelopment.
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