[VIEWPOINT]Teachers can do a lot for reform to work“Professor A” from Seoul National University expressed his hopes and worries about the “combined essay test” for university admissions after grading essay tests recently. His hopes are that these combined essay tests will play a positive role in teaching the young the talents and skills society requires. Our society needs people who are able think logically, critically and creatively.
This professor worries, “The trend which requires money to learn how to write a middle-level essay will continue.”
He worries that students’ reliance on private education will increase. He pointed to a student’s essay he recently graded, which cited “A Theory of Justice” written by the late philosopher John Rawls, even though it had no relation at all to the topic. The professor remarked, “I had just finished reading Rawls’ book quite recently. The student seemed to have written down material from the sample essay provided by the teacher of a private educational institute.”
Part of Rawls’ book was used in a question on the 2006 essay test for admission to Seoul National University.
What lies even before the wind and rises even before the wind is not just grass, as Kim Su-yeong wrote in a poem. Private institutes are adapting and preparing for the changing university entrance exams much faster than the public schools.
It is a good thing Seoul National University announced it will increase the percentage of the essay test to up to 30 percent of the admission exams beginning in 2008, and other prestigious universities will follow the trend.
The education system should break out of its habit of marking answers. Although universities have twisted the arms of middle schools and high schools with entrance exams as their weapon, the direction they have twisted is correct. The problem is whether the public schools have the ability to make it into practice.
Private institutes have been prepared for a long time. The principal of a private educational institute in Daechi-dong, Seoul, let’s call it “B,” commented, “We have already researched the essays universities have used in previous years with experts who have doctorates in philosophy, economics, politics and Korean language and literature as well as lawyers and current math and science instructors.”
Public school teachers say, “It is very clear that the combined essay tests will spur private education.”
A public school teacher in Gangbuk, whose last name is Choi, said, “The structure is designed for the schools not to be able to beat the private institutes. In teaching how to write an essay, correcting the students’ writing is essential, but how can a teacher handle a class with more than 30 students?”
Public school teachers are allowed to receive up to 35,000 won per hour for after-school classes, but this is difficult in comparison with private educational institutes.
“The pressure of studying the teaching materials and lecturing and correcting all the essays makes it hard to get beyond the type of teaching which consists of just asking students to write, then collecting their essays and then the class is over,” teacher Choi said.
The situation outside Seoul is worse. A high school teacher in Cheonan said, “The entire school cannot put all its effort into essay tests just for a couple of students who wish to enter prestigious universities. Isn’t it inevitable for the public schools and private educational institutes to share the job, according to their respective functions?”
There are ways to change the situation based on how much effort teachers put in. Some schools have been able to wean students away from private institutes and back to public schools by providing team-teaching for essay tests. At Yongsan High School, Jeong Nak-sik, who teaches Korean, has studied additionally social studies, including philosophy, aesthetics and ethics for the past three years. This was in preparation for teaching how to write essays. When the universities announced they will include combined essay tests, Mr. Jeong cooperated with teachers of other subjects to develop teaching material. Since the alumni of Yongsan High School are very well-organized, the third-year students have benefited from special lectures on essay writing for free.
The change toward combined essay tests is a good move. But in order for the public schools to be able to do the job right, the teachers should change. Korean language teachers and the Education Workers’ Union should abandon their stance of “opposing the combined essay test since it is the same as the university entrance exams.”
The government should be flexible in implementing the curriculum and increasing financial support to help public school teachers. One way is to use half of the 75 billion won ($78.45 million) the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union had returned in supporting schools to teach essays. (Let’s use the other half for students who can’t bring lunch to school or can’t pay their tuition fees.) The combined essay tests are in line with the views of Kim Shin-il, the nominee for deputy prime minister and minister of education, for promoting elite education.
I urge the teachers to make an effort.
* The writer is the sports and culture editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Roh Jae-hyun