[FOUNTAIN] Untangling the Education Knot

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[FOUNTAIN] Untangling the Education Knot

An American sociology professor assigned a project to his students. He asked them to conduct a survey of 200 teenagers' living conditions in a notorious slum in Baltimore and forecast their future. The students' prediction was identical: "Their future is bleak because they are deprived of opportunities."

Twenty-five years later, another professor's curiosity was piqued about what happened to the surveyed youngsters. He gave his students an assignment to find out what kind of lives the subjects led. A surprising outcome came to light. Excluding those who had died or could not be tracked down, out of 180 people, 176 led very successful lives. Many were leaders of their communities as lawyers, doctors and businesspeople.

The professor asked his students to find out what had made them successful. The survey subjects all said that a female teacher had turned their lives around. The professor managed to locate the teacher and asked her what educational method she had used. The old woman said, "It was simple. I loved them." This is an anecdote included in Chicken Soup for the Soul, a best-seller a few years ago.

These days Korean teachers talk among themselves about "the Lee Hai-chan generation." They refer to the students who have been influenced by the policy of Mr. Lee, a member of the Supreme Council of the Millennium Democratic Party, when he was minister of education (1998-1999). To be more specific, this term indicates students whose academic performance is inferior to their seniors' and who show less respect to their teachers, in the throes of a "collapse of classrooms." High school seniors are the eldest of this generation. A teacher of a renowned high school in Kyonggi province, where students are still selected through high school entrance examinations, expressed his concern: "Recently we tested our seniors using the same tests as last year, and their average scores are as many as 15 points lower than those of the previous class."

Mr. Lee must feel wronged when his name is being used to depict this unsavory phenomenon. The current education crisis, the concern of all Koreans, cannot be laid on the doorstep of a single person, who was in charge of education administration a couple of years ago. Are teachers and parents exempt from the blame? Also, the overall social atmosphere must have a hand in this messy business. Actually, it may be nonsensical to talk about a crisis just because test scores dropped by several points. But something is definitely wrong when parents emigrate in droves for the sake of their children's education and many parents suffer under the heavy burden of their children's tutoring expenses. Where do we find the first thread of a solution to this knot?

by Noh Jae-hyun

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