[Viewpoint]Good schools are not only in cities

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[Viewpoint]Good schools are not only in cities

The results of an analysis of College Scholastic Ability Test performance of high school students in the last five years have been made public for the first time since the test was introduced in 1993.

The test scores of students in Seoul, large cities and other urban areas are on average notably higher than those in rural counties. But the analysis revealed that Jangseong County in South Jeolla Province and Geochang County in South Gyeongsang Province produced outstanding test scores.

In these two counties, students at Jangseong High School and Geochang High School consistently scored high. What did these schools do right?

Jangseong High School is an autonomous boarding school. The standardized school zoning in the 2005 school year allowed excellent students from nearby cities to apply for admission. Two years ago, the school began accepting students from all over the country.

But this alone is not enough to explain what’s been happening. For instance, in 2005 seniors at Jangseong High School ? who entered the school in 2002 ? produced leading scores on the CSAT. Since this was before the standardized school zoning and inflow of good students, those changes are not the only cause of the good scores. The school was already prestigious even before it accepted students from nearby cities, and its reputation attracted good students when the zoning was standardized.

Just like Jangseong High School, Geochang High School is also a boarding school that admits students from around the country. In addition to its outstanding college acceptance rate, it is known for its philosophy of student-oriented autonomous education. Such an education cannot be attained without the solid commitment of the principal, devotion and effort of the teachers, passion and dedication of the staff and parental trust.

According to a longitudinal study conducted by the Korean Educational Development Institute of middle school students from seventh to ninth grades, the socioeconomic background of a student’s family and supplementary education do affect the academic achievement of individual seventh graders and their academic improvement from seventh grade to ninth grade, but do not affect the overall academic performance of the school. Moreover, the changes in performance by grade in a certain school are most affected by the enthusiasm of the teachers.

Granted, when good students are concentrated at a certain school they will produce good scores, but that alone does not guarantee the longitudinal effect, or consistently good performance and improvement.

If a school wants to maintain good scores in the CSAT, it should not stop at selecting outstanding students. It needs to constantly promote excellent educational activities.

Jangseong and Geochang counties are rural areas with relatively poor educational conditions in terms of economic level and private educational facilities.

Since they are boarding schools, where students are not overly affected by their family lives, their outstanding academic achievements are likely due to the educational activities they provide. Central to these activities are the enthusiastic and talented teaching staff and the diverse and flexible curriculum that accommodates the needs of individual students.

In order to resolve the regional achievement gap revealed in the report, education authorities should not spare administrative and financial assistance to the regions with low CSAT scores.

Talented and enthusiastic principals and teachers should be assigned to schools in smaller towns and villages.

By offering more financial assistance and expanding operational autonomy on their curriculum, schools should be allowed to offer educational programs to satisfy individual needs.

Other schools need to be informed about the success of Jangseong and Geochang high schools. Geochang High School focuses more on building good character and teaching how to be a responsible citizen rather than academic accomplishment, and each pupil studies to attain his own goals without feeling pressured for better grades. Geochang High School’s well-rounded education, not just its CSAT scores, should be held up as an example to all.

*The writer is the head of the research team at the Korea Educational Development Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Yang-bun
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