[VIEWPOINT]Let universities pick their students

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[VIEWPOINT]Let universities pick their students

A university professor confessed to having problems grading the essay tests required for admission to the university. “It was really hard to grade about 900 tests in four days. In the later part, my eyes dimmed and I became less confident about whether I was giving the proper grades.”
University authorities follow guidelines for giving out the grades, and each paper is double-checked by a number of professors. Still, there are limitations to guaranteeing perfection. Another university professor said, “I checked papers very carefully in the beginning, but my concentration level then dropped.”
He said that he could not help but give preferential treatment to the papers written with clear handwriting. That means, in extreme cases, the evaluation of the essay test becomes an evaluation of the person’s handwriting skills. The marks of the essay tests are, therefore, less accurate and less objective than those of the College Scholastic Ability Test and high school records. And the marks professors give to applicants after interviewing or testing them orally vary greatly from professor to professor. So, it is said that private educational institutions in the Gangnam area and the wealthy residential districts south of the Han River look into the personality and taste of professors at certain departments of certain universities so they can prepare their students accordingly. When students apply to a university, the school considers the essay tests as well as interviews with the applicants. A dean of a university who is in charge of enrollment said, “Students who get good marks on essay tests have a higher degree of achievement.” Nevertheless, it is not good that the grade from a test that has a relatively low rate of accuracy decides the success or failure of a student’s university entrance. However, this trend will get even stronger, starting with the 2008 university entrance examination, in which essay tests will be emphasized more. Students, parents and high schools are all worried. Even though the government and universities say the model answers to the essay tests that are taught by private institutions will not work, it does not have a bad effect on their business.
I don’t blame the universities. The fundamental problem lies with the wrong government regulations applied to the universities.
In the beginning, people in the present government tried to distinguish the grades from the College Scholastic Ability Test and high school records into five levels. Students who scored in the top 20 percent were supposed to be given level 1. The intent was to standardize universities by allotting excellent students to as many universities as possible. However, then-deputy prime minister of education, Ahn Byung-young, opposed the plan strongly on the grounds that it would weaken the power of the test results. As a result, the number of grades was increased to nine levels. Nevertheless, the top 4 percent of the students are grade one and next 7 percent are grade two. That means the verifying power of the test results and the school records is still low. The universities, therefore, had no other choice but to increase the weight of the essay test.
When regulations increase, the market retaliates. Since the present government has unfolded its policies regulating the real estate market, real estate prices have skyrocketed nationwide. The same thing can happen in education. However hard the government tries to implement egalitarian education, society needs better qualified workers. In almost all industrial fields, the competition gets harder.
The government regulations for the 2008 university entrance examinations caused a new phrase to be coined, the “death triangle” ― high school records, the College Scholastic Ability Test and the essay test. This means that students suffer triple the difficulty, because they cannot ignore their school records and ability tests, but must adopt a relative evaluation system and prepare for the essay test. As to the trend of the essay test getting more difficult year after year, the university authorities only defend themselves by saying, “The test gets difficult because universities have to follow government regulations.”
The government even sets guidelines for the essay test and bans universities from giving students who applied for a special test in a foreign language other than English an essay test in the foreign language they specialize in. As a result, talented students are leaving Korea. In the end, our society will get its retaliation from the manpower market.
In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Euh Yoon-dae, the president of Korea University, said, “There is no university president who thinks the Education Ministry’s regulations regarding universities are right.” He said, “the ministry must leave matters related to university enrollment to the discretion of the individual university and concentrate on the development and management of human resources.” He is absolutely right. That is the shortcut to easing the outrage that will result from the misguided 2008 university entrance examinations.

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

by Oh Day-young
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