[FOUNTAIN]College exams and meritocracySome scholars consider France a “meritocracy,” in which an individual’s social position or reward is determined by ability. In France, education is the measure of ability.
Whether you are a high school graduate, a college diploma holder or a graduate of one of the specialized grandes ecoles determines your path in life. Those graduating from the prestigious grandes ecoles, which the elite attend, are guaranteed career success. Most famous politicians, high-ranking government officials and executives of major corporations completed the elite curriculum of the grandes ecoles.
The French meritocracy begins from the principle of equal opportunity, providing free, obligatory, secular education for everyone. In France, you cannot complain that you were deprived of an opportunity to study because of financial constraints, since from kindergarten to university, you pay hardly any tuition. Although the French have an equal opportunity at education, universities pick talented students through strict screening procedures, such as the “examen” and “concours.”
“Examen” is a qualifying examination that students pass by scoring a certain number of points. Baccalaureat, one of the examens, allows secondary school graduates to go on to regular colleges. Meanwhile, “concours” is an essay writing test to select the elite few; it is required for admission to one of the grandes ecoles. French students often take the concours more than once, just like their Korean counterparts, to get into their choice of grandes ecoles. France can be one of the leaders in the high-tech industries because of these schools.
The French do not complain about social inequality resulting from different educational backgrounds. It is generally accepted that those with outstanding abilities are treated with respect regardless of gender, race, age or region.
The controversy over reviving the entrance examination to Seoul National University is heating up. An examination is a way to select the people that a social organization needs. When there is fair competition and evaluation, we need to acknowledge the authority and benefit of the examination. It is up to the university to decide on the means of screening students, whether it is an examination or an essay test.
Koreans take academic background seriously, no less than the French do. But it is premature to call Korean society a meritocracy. The concept is often overshadowed by indiscriminate egalitarianism that neglects competition. A test that lacks discrimination cannot screen for talented students, and when there is no competition, you become stingy in acknowledging the superiority of others.
by Ko Dae-hoon
The writer is a deputy city news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.