[FOUNTAIN]Give students a little room for mistakes

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[FOUNTAIN]Give students a little room for mistakes

When Daekyo Group CEO Song Ja began teaching at Yonsei University in 1976, having just returned from the United States, he had his own system. He increased the number of exams in his classes to four per semester, which was unheard of.
He also changed the grading system. Of each student’s four test scores, the lowest was dropped, and the other three were averaged together. His thinking was that any student could get sick, go into a slump or have a family emergency, so everyone would get one free pass. He also gave the final exam more weight in the overall semester grade, wanting to give students more incentive to study hard throughout the semester and improve.
This meant that even if a student got off to a bad start, he could still get a good grade if he worked at it. And the fact that there were four exams made it less likely that someone could get a good grade by luck or last-minute cramming. Students who made a mistake would still have a chance to recover. Indeed, many students were saved by this system.
A test is not just a means of measuring achievement. Its more important function is to encourage students to work harder. A similar motivation is behind the recent changes to the college admissions system, which shift emphasis away from the entrance exam and toward high school transcripts, to encourage students to pay more attention to their classes.
But one side effect has been a “grade war” at foreign language high schools, which tend to attract gifted students. Some 10th-graders now fear that one mediocre grade could ruin their futures. Some students at these magnet schools have reacted by transferring to general public schools, where the competition is less fierce, and it seems possible that they might do so en masse. That would certainly achieve the goal of standardizing the schools, though it would do so by lowering the standards.
What’s more, the new system does not make allowances for mistakes. The more weight is placed on transcripts, the worse the situation is for postgraduate applicants. It would be very hard to make up for a poor transcript by studying for an extra year.
Adolescence is a time of turmoil. Students are prone to making mistakes and getting lost. But the admissions system does not recognize this aspect of youth. Students’ grades will follow them forever. Of course, no system can satisfy everyone, but we shouldn’t choose one that causes pain for the majority. Perhaps the educational authorities don’t understand how their students think.


by Nahm Yoon-ho

The writer is head of the family affairs team at the JoongAng Ilbo.

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