Not all students are equalStarting next school year, Seoul National University will test and divide its engineering freshmen into two different classes based on their ability to solve math and science problems. When the school tested freshmen this year who applied for advanced placement physics classes, the graduates of elite science high schools received an average score of 70 percent. Plenty of students who didn’t study there, however, received a zero.
How off-kilter can the Korean high school education and college entrance system be for such a strange thing to happen? About 20 percent of SNU’s engineering freshmen were rated as being at a level in which they had to learn high school math all over, while some were at the same level as students who had mastered the first two years of college math. SNU lowered the standards of its lectures, but some students still had a hard time following the studies. At the same time, the easy lectures caused superior students to lose interest and go abroad to study.
If the situation at one of the best schools in Korea is like this, what the other schools face is a big concern. The current system allows high school students who did not take advanced math or science classes to enter college as engineering majors. Many engineering students did not take high school courses such as physics, citing the difficulty.
It is not strange that these students cannot follow their college lectures. But the current education system does not allow colleges to select their students based on their own free will. There is almost no way for schools to sort and select the students they want. What’s worse is that this problem will deepen because of the education policy that seeks to flatten out the scholastic distinctions among students.
Starting in 2008, college scholastic ability exam takers will receive test results that tell them which category they fall in among the nine graded levels, instead of their actual scores. So it is clear that students with a big disparity in scholastic ability will meet in the same classes. Some colleges introduced a graded lecture system after finding out that many graduates from vocational high schools dropped out of classes after having a difficult time following the college’s advanced mathematics courses. But the government introduced a new beneficiary policy last year, making it easier for vocational high school graduates to enter college. It is no wonder universities are complaining. High school education systems should improve and colleges should have the freedom to make their own policy.