[EDITORIALS]The sad state of scienceAt a ceremony to mark Science Day, President Roh Moo-hyun pledged yesterday to put his efforts to make this year the beginning of South Korea’s second drive for science and technology development. Mr. Roh promised that he would hire more public servants with engineering backgrounds. We offer high praise to Mr. Roh’s determination. But rather than just paying lip service, we urge that Mr. Roh devise feasible and thorough plans to keep his promise.
In this modern era, science and technology determine a country’s competitiveness. Because science and technology feed a nation, technological development is not just a motto ― it is a prerequisite for a nation’s survival and prosperity. And yet the reality is that our technology does not equal our reputation as the world’s 10th largest economy. For a long time, students here have stayed away from engineering and science disciplines. The trend has been a serious social issue, and there is no sign of it changing. Only 0.4 percent of our youth said they would like to become scientists or engineers. Among college admission test applicants, only 27 percent chose to study engineering and science. Under such circumstances, improving the nation’s science and technological competitiveness is a mission impossible.
Engineering and science studies were disdained because engineers and scientists cannot work with pride. Our government and private contributors provide research funding that is only 1/13 that of Japan and 1/20 of that of the United States. From scholarship and research funding, to salaries and job possibilities, who is willing to take such a difficult road? Among our social leaders, those who studied science and engineering comprised only 8 percent of lawmakers, 3 percent of high-ranking public servants and 26 percent of listed firms’ CEOs. That is far lower than that of other developed countries.
The public must be motivated to develop an interest in everyday science. It is urgent for the government to reform primary and secondary school educations to awaken in students an attraction and a curiosity in science, and to help lead them to the benefits.