[OUTLOOK]The tide of educational reformIn December 2001, Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin visited an old scientist, Qian Xuesen, on his 90th birthday, showed concern about his health and praised his academic achievements.
Dr. Qian graduated from Shanghai’s Ziao Tong University in 1935, studied in the United States to receive a doctoral degree from the California Institute of Technology and, as a professor, devoted himself to research on the ultrasonic jet propeller.
During World War II, he served as chief missile researcher at the U.S. Committee on Defense and Science. He returned to China in 1955, led the nuclear missile experiment in 1966, and took charge of manufacturing a satellite launched in 1970. The success in launching a manned spacecraft last year was possible because of Dr. Qian.
As part of a science-based policy to help the nation prosper, China has formulated “836 plans” since the 1980s. The government designates research items, develops technology and links the technology to manufacturing products in more than 100 advanced technology development zones.
As a result of these plans, China succeeded in launching a manned spaceship. Also, since 1999, China has selected the two top scientists every year and awarded them an unprecedented prize of 5 million yuan (about $670,000).
As the decline in the science and engineering fields worsens in our society, calls to save the disciplines are growing louder. Why did this happen? The government and leaders did not take an interest in science, nor link science to education.
When former President Park Chung Hee was in office, he pursued projects that emphasized science to develop the country.
As experts were invited from abroad and the Korea-Germany vocational school was founded in Busan, vocational education for science and engineering took root as a major national policy. By offering vocational training in the humanities-centered secondary education, the level of vocational education advanced.
The winners of the International Vocational Training Competition were praised as national heroes and the development of the nation based on science and technology was accepted as the social norm.
Despite the decline in science and engineering departments, five people with a science or engineering background hold cabinet-level posts in the government.
The major of Lee Ki-jun, former president of Seoul National University, was rheology, the study of the deformation and flow of matter. The title of a collection of his works, published to celebrate his retirement, is “I knew the flow, and achieved a change.” Reading his book, I thought statesmen should indeed see the flow of the times quickly and come up with a policy on change. We have no time to just be disappointed with the ebb of the science and engineering fields.
Simply granting small scholarships is not likely to solve the problem. To save the science and engineering fields is the task of this age.
One of the Roh Moo-hyun administration’s achievements is the selection of the “top 10 strategic fields for the growth of the next generation.”
The strategic fields that will support Korea in five to 10 years are :display, intelligent robots, new automobiles, the next generation semiconductor and cell battery, digital television broadcasting, the next-generation mobile communications system, the intelligent home network, digital contents, software solutions, new types of biomedicine and artificial organs.
The Roh administration had an ambitious plan to pursue these 10 tasks government-wide.
This was a dream-like blueprint that was expected to achieve 169 trillion won in added value, $251.9 billion in exports, and create jobs for 2.41 million people in 10 years.
But although the plan was selected in August of last year, it has made no progress until now. Moving away from “all or nothing politics” that is only concerned about elections and realizing these dreams is the challenging task facing our country.
The Chinese Communist style or Mr. Park’s autocratic style of national development policy on the basis of science is not suitable for today’s reality.
Vocational training for people with science and engineering backgrounds should be expanded according to global standards and market economic principles, including supply and demand.
A separate educational policy should be formulated to nurture talented people.
Through these polices, the government should put in place a new personnel system for science and engineering majors which could accomplish both the development of the country based on science and technology and educational reform.
By appointing a deputy prime minister of science, the president should carry out these tasks in a triune system along with the deputy prime ministers of economy and education. He should ride the tide and achieve change and reform.
* The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Young-bin