[FORUM]Song's Sad Tale Should Not Be Repeated

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[FORUM]Song's Sad Tale Should Not Be Repeated

There are probably many parents who think, "My child may be precocious; he might be gifted." Educational programs and private lessons for precocious children are flourishing.

However, when it comes to the case of Song Ji-yong, who entered the prestigious Pohang University of Science and Technology after graduating from elementary school, education for the gifted is not so simple.

Song, with an I.Q. of 175, is a 13-year-old boy who wants to be the No. 1 authority in the field of either bioscience or space science. He passed the qualification test for middle school graduation in February last year, after two months of studying. And in just four months, he passed the qualification examination for high school graduation. He took the Korean Scholastic Ability Test for college and got a score of 354. With that score, he challenged to be admitted at Pohang University as a student majoring in bioengineering, though his score was much lower than the level required for admissions to the college.

Pohang University, which was interested in Song's talents, permitted his entrance on condition that he take three courses - mathematics, physics and chemistry - in the first semester, and then the university would evaluate the results of his studies to make a decision.

However, it was too hard for Song, who skipped the regular education courses of middle and high school, to catch up on the lectures of one of Korea's best colleges. The university officials evaluated that though Song was excellent in understanding and in learning power, he lacked application power due to a weak knowledge base. Though the university admitted Song had talent, it could not open a special educational program only for him. So after one semester, the university encouraged Song to drop out of school.

Song's father expressed disappointment about the "experiment of a gifted child" by the university in an interview, saying that, "It is irresponsible for the college to put a child into classes with college students without any appropriate consideration." Experts agreed that Song's frustration was the result of a lack of an educational system for gifted children in our society.

Actually, when the JoongAng Ilbo special reporting team recently sought 144 gifted children selected by the Chun Doo Hwan administration 16 years ago, and succeeded in contacting 57 of those children, 95 percent of them had not had the chance to take part in any special education programs and some 40 percent of them had lost interest in studying in middle and high school, and failed to enter college. And most of them had focused on college entrance examinations without developing their own talents.

Considering the above situation, the new educational system for science high schools for precocious students that the government decided to organize last month attracts our attention. The schools will be the first educational system that can educate gifted children like Song. According to the plan, among 16 science high schools, two will be converted for the education of precocious students and will open their doors in 2003.

The new science high school for precocious students breaks the framework of current school education. Instead of the Ministry of Education, which has not been active in education programs for gifted children, the Science and Technology Ministry will lead the education program. There will be no age limits and completion of elementary and middle school education will not be mandatory for entrance. There will be no school year, the school will have multi-terms and more than 50 percent of the teachers at the school will have doctoral degrees.

The students can have a so- called "tailored education" that will be based on their respective abilities. They can enter the prestigious Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology without an entrance examination.

But it is not so easy to launch a school for gifted students. The government should prepare a reasonable plan for selecting students, create educational programs and secure faculty members. In a highly competitive knowledge-based society, it is important to recognize scientifically gifted students for the survival and prosperity of Korea.


The writer is the chief city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Han Cheon-soo

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