[Letter to the editor]Korean must do better in education

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[Letter to the editor]Korean must do better in education

Educational integrity and professionalism in the Korean educational system are two issues we never hear publicly debated in the national media, but are desperately needed.
It is well known that Korean high school grades are some of the highest in the world; it is also known that many of those grades are fraudulent. Many who teach in Korean high schools say that teachers are not allowed to give grades less than a B to any student for fear of harming the school’s reputation and funding. And even after the grades are given, they are often negotiable, by bribes or threats. So how is increasing the use and importance of high school grades going to improve the standard by which students are chosen for universities? A student’s high school grades mean absolutely nothing to me as a university professor.
Government agencies should take a good hard look into how it is possible for a Korean high school student to barely speak a word of English and still acquire an overall grade of a B or an A. The reason for this is rooted in money and in the fact that the Korean educational system is based on two concepts alone ― the “what” and the “how.” Korean students and parents are only concerned with “What do I need to know, and how is it done?” But mere memorization of facts, dates and concepts cannot and must not be construed as education. By contrast, Western students focus as much attention to the “why” and “what if” ― not just facts but why they are important and their far-reaching implications and possibilities. This could explain why Korea has no Nobel winners in the sciences, and why Seoul National University is not ranked in the top 100 universities in the world.
In addition to the considerable amount of bogus grading, much of the teaching is questionable. I know personally of Korean English professors who do not speak any English in their English classes. I find this absolutely shocking, abhorrent and of the lowest possible professional standard. Korea and its students and universities want to be taken seriously by the world, but until Korea starts to establish true educational integrity and professionalism within its system, Korean degrees will always be suspect, along with students’ abilities and knowledge.
How can Korea fix this educational crisis? In my humble opinion, a great first step is getting Western universities to set up campuses in Korea and directly challenge SNU’s dominance. Koreans need to aspire to enter better universities. Only with their particularly high standards and professionalism will other Korean universities rise up to respectable standards. Korea can no longer afford to continue as it does today. If Korea wants to be an economic and intellectual leader in the world, it must do better.
Roger Foard, a professor at Seoul Theological University
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