Scientifically bleakThe America Competes Act, which was passed by the U.S. Congress last Thursday, calls for $33.6 billion in funding to bolster research and education in the fields of mathematics and science. The legislation not only provides for reinforcement of education and support for research, it also includes an item that links math and science grades with teaching licenses. The passage of this bill is a sign that America is aware that it is lagging behind in global competition.
Republican congressman Vernon Ehlers voiced this concern. “China and India recognized 20 years ago that the future belonged to nations that educated their children in math and science.”
The United States is not the only country that realizes education is the source of global competitiveness. In France Nicolas Sarkozy and his government have put “autonomy” and “competitiveness” as core elements in its reform of the educational system. Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown is also talking about raising the educational level of his country. President George W. Bush has stated that the “national objective [of the United States] is to challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations and to raise educational standards for every single child.” As such, the focus of educational policy in most advanced countries is on the enhancement of academic expectations, particularly in the fields of math and science.
During the period when we have come to revere the “3 Nos Policy” as unchallengeable, we have let our educational system produce too many “casualties of low expectations.” The degradation of math and science skills among our students is especially serious. Even the math and science departments of Seoul National University have established special classes for students who need to catch up with basic lectures. The low level of education in our middle and high schools, the excessively easy College Scholastic Ability Test and the weak standards of math and science schools in accepting applicants have all combined to reduce our competitiveness in math and science. Only 3.3% of students in Korean high schools study physical sciences. Other countries are racing ahead of us.
On the day that the America Competes Act was passed, our Ministry of Education announced 33 tasks to liberalize our universities. Unfortunately they did not include the two most important aspects ― student admission rules and financing. So long as our government continues to obsess about regulations and frowns upon competition the future of our country will remain bleak.