[VIEWPOINT]Act now, with long term in mind

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[VIEWPOINT]Act now, with long term in mind

The recent announcement by Seoul National University and other major colleges saying that they will give more weight to essay tests during the 2008 college admission process has put Korea’s education into chaos.
The schools, high school juniors and their parents are all confused, and extracurricular private classes are getting prosperous in the midst of “essay contest tornadoes” provoked by the educational authority.
However, that’s not the end of the story. Each college will announce its own method of factoring in high school grades and other plans by mid-November, then finalize the admission guidelines in February 2007.
The problem is that the same fuss is repeated practically every year. Colleges and universities finalize the admission guidelines far too late.
The Higher Education Law enforcement ordinance says the Minister of Education must announce the basic plans for college education guidelines 18 months before students enter the school. That means the Ministry of Education announces the new admission plans in the summer of the year before a student’s admission year, and the colleges and universities subsequently begin drafting their own guidelines. As a result, each school finalizes the guidelines only a few months before the rolling admission process begins.
Admission to high schools is not much different. Former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Human Resources Kim Jin-pyo suddenly announced in June that high schools specializing in foreign language education must only accept applicants living in certain districts. While the parents and schools strongly oppose the move, Education Ministry officials insist the measure is legitimate, since the Elementary and Middle School Education Law enforcement ordinance specifies that changes must be announced 10 months before they go into effect. Though the execution of the measure has been postponed three years after many complications, it has created quite a stir.
As the saying goes, education is a grand plan for 100 years in the future. Families make farsighted plans for their children’s education. If the high school admission system suddenly changes, the parents must feel greatly disappointed, because their long-term efforts might turn out to be futile. They could begin to distrust the educational policies.
Nevertheless, the docile parents usually accept the changes after muttering some complaints.
They have not always been so obedient. In 1997, the parents of students enrolled in magnet schools specializing in foreign languages and science staged large-scale protests day-by-day, and students dropped out of the schools in groups. The protest was about the sudden changes related to college admissions. In 1995, the government announced that high schools should follow an absolute evaluation system on students’ achievements. The next year, the guidelines changed to a relative evaluation system.
The changes were implemented the following year. The parents and students at the magnet schools strongly protested that they had trusted the government policy and chosen the specialty schools, but the changed system put them at a great disadvantage. The parents even sought a constitutional appeal. There is no guarantee that such a crisis won’t happen again.
With the admission guidelines floating around, parents and students often make decisions based on rumors and speculation. Students at foreign language high schools have a disadvantage under the relative evaluation system, but applicants to these schools increased this year.
While they must have taken the better educational conditions into account, some parents think the college admission policy will change in the next administration, possibly making the foreign language school less disadvantageous. The uncertain system causes students and parents to gamble over their college admission. In order to resolve these problems, the government needs to adopt an advance notice system, requiring high schools and universities to finalize and announce the admission guidelines at least three years in advance. With a more stable admission system, schools can be fully prepared, and the students can make long-term plans for the future.
Supplementary measures that beat around the bush are useless. When the ministry of education presented the college admissions plan for 2008 two years ago, it announced that an office of admission evaluation researching the system would be installed at colleges and universities and an educational development committee would be created to collaborate with high schools and colleges. However, both organizations are nowhere to be found. It is a predictable ending, since the Ministry of Education tightly controls college admissions and universities have to hurry to make their admission guidelines. It is about time the government gave the universities back their right to choose students and put in a three-year advance notice system for admission guidelines.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Day-young
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