[EDITORIALS]Let the universities decidePresident Roh Moo-hyun said yesterday, “What I recommend to universities is that instead of trying to select one excellent student out of a thousand, select one good student out of a hundred, and educate him well.” In connection with the contoversy over Seoul National University’s alleged attempt to conduct its own entrance exams starting in 2008, the president expressed his education philosophy and policy direction while meeting with editors and news directors of major newspapers and TV stations. He said the role of universities is to select freshmen, regardless of their academic ability, and educate them to be talented people.
There are two aspects to education. One is arming students with the knowledge and virtue they need to be sound citizens. The other is to nurture a social elite ―to educate excellent students and let them contribute to society as a whole. This is the age of information and globalization. We can’t survive if we merely compete amongst oursleves; we must compete with the whole world. Already, low academic ability among middle and high school students is becoming a problem. Are we now going to ruin university eduction under the guise of egalitarian education?
It is hard to find a country that regulates its university entrance system like Korea does. Where on earth is there another country that decides how much weight universities should give to standardized tests and school records? The present government’s intervention in these matters exceeds that of all the previous ones. Its “three-no” policy ― forbidding universities to rank high schools, accept students based on donations or conduct its own entrance exams ― has shackled the universities. Mr. Roh said, “Universities should submit to government policy, since entrance exams have great influence on public education and on students.” But the essence of the policy is to ask universities to make decisions based on standardized tests with only nine grades.
It is not possible to choose among the 24,000 students in the first rank of the standardized test. That is why universities want to conduct interviews and essay tests too. When Mr. Roh said this could amount to a separate entrance exam, the governing party’s camp declared all-out war on Seoul National Univeristy. They intend to resolve the issue with a show of force. It has become a competition to demonstrate loyalty to the president.
Education should be politically neutral, unswayed by an administration. That is why we say education is a matter for the next hundred years. This applies to Mr. Roh, too; his personal philosophy mustn’t change our education policy. His term will expire in two and a half years.
Kim Jin-pyo, deputy prime minister for education, is responsible for aggravating this situation. His ministry gave a positive evaluation to Seoul National University’s plan for essay tests. He should have explained this to Uri Party lawmakers and persuaded Mr. Roh. But after the president spoke out against the plan, he suddenly began to criticize it. Who could trust an education minister like this? It is a shame.
If this controversy grows, there will be more damage to the students who will enter university in two years. The plan is not a detailed one; the university says it is studying the matter, and will not make people uneasy by consulting the ministry. Let’s leave university admissions to universities. We hope Mr. Roh’s words will not be used to ruin the principles of Korean education, which dictate standardized primary and secondary education, but competition-based univeristy education.