[Outlook]Curriculum care

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[Outlook]Curriculum care

The presidential transition committee recently got the attention of the people by announcing the new administration’s education reform measures. The idea is to leave the Education Ministry’s duties and affairs related to university entrance examinations to the Korean Council for University Education, and give full autonomy to universities on student recruitment. These measures are expected to fundamentally change the university entrance system.
Some worry that the Korean Council for University Education is incapable of carrying out such duties, that university-run entrance examinations will increase private tutoring, and that swift, drastic changes will cause entrance exam chaos.
But on principle, it is good to give universities the autonomy to recruit talented students in different fields. This is certainly the right direction to take to allow the country’s education system to advance.
But in the meantime, the education system has a fundamental problem that we’re not paying attention to because all of our energies are directed toward the university entrance reforms. The problem is with the curriculum in junior high and high schools.
Let’s suppose that the entrance reforms are successfully implemented, the public education system is restored and students can get into university simply by understanding their school textbooks. But what is the point if the textbooks used for public education don’t teach the students the skills they need to survive in a modern knowledge-based society?
In advanced countries where university entrance systems are well-established, curriculum and class content are the most important education issues. For instance, in the United States, the president takes a leading role in enhancing mathematics and science education in schools. In France, debates on economic education have recently been sparked. In the meantime, Koreans are so preoccupied with measures to normalize the university entrance system and to cool off the private tutoring frenzy that they are not paying enough attention to the curriculum, which is a more vital education issue.
Our school curriculum has many problems. It is doubtful that the current syllabus is the result of serious deliberation on what it takes for our students to be able to survive in the 21st century, an age of unlimited competition. For instance, university professors are sorry that students lack the communication skills to express their opinions.
Companies say it is a serious problem that new workers are not good at communicating with colleagues. Junior high and high schools, however, have few courses to teach students how to communicate with others and express themselves, such as essay-writing classes. Therefore, if universities have essay tests, students need to depend on private tutors or private institutes.
Science is also not given any weight even though it is essential in this century of high technology. The world is changing by the day thanks to developments in technology, but Korea’s education system produces people who are ignorant in scientific fields. Social studies courses, such as history and geography, are focused on certain regions and eras and do not meet international standards in an era of globalization.
Things have gotten this bad because former administrations implemented unreasonable and near-sighted education policies so as to resolve problems in education through the university entrance exams. In the meantime, the curriculum has been given less and less attention, and has ended up being decided by suppliers of educational materials. Now, students are the victims. They waste time and energy studying things that are not even remotely related to their future and memorizing fragments of knowledge which they will forget as soon as the tests are over.
In this environment, it is quite natural that many students go abroad to study, because they are suffering enormously, and the knowledge that they manage to obtain is not of much of use. Students must be the most important factor when education policy is implemented and school curriculums must address what is necessary for them to survive in the future. This is as important a task as improving the university entrance system.

*The writer is the dean of the College of Natural Science at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Oh Se-jung
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