[Letters] Rethinking our education goals

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[Letters] Rethinking our education goals

Even an 18-year-old like me can see that in Korean society academic background and money are the most important and visible signs of success.

Since job promotion and advancement in Korea is based particularly on which school one graduated from, entrance to university and the workplace is inordinately competitive. Even before young people gain any notion of what they want to do, their parents work mightily to get them into “special purpose high schools.” Korean parents know by heart and experience that top high schools will lead to top universities, and then to the most secure and high-paying jobs. Such is the only way to guarantee their children prosperous lives.

I am a high school student, attending a prestigious special high school in Gyeonggi Province, where I am provided with the best facilities and the best education in an environment that is focused on nurturing global talent. Having been admitted to this school was a great event for me. I had hopes and ambitions to study in a free and spontaneous environment where I could learn and research what I want.

I realized within a year, however, that such thoughts were a mere fantasy.

To my disappointment, the nod to world-class education was actually no more than an exam preparation program, and instruction amounted to gaming the process of college admission.

Everything was a sham. Studying for the Scholastic Aptitude Test and Advanced Placement exams, the internships and the volunteering stints that I and my fellow students have done — all were pursued for the wrong reasons. Competition among the students is also unusually harsh and tends to alienate them from each other. Competing for higher scores and better records make students distrust everyone else and act in ways that benefit only themselves. Friendship vanishes from the moment students gain admission.

At the root of the problem is that all the striving is driven not by academic ambition or personal passion. Our innate talents were ignored; we were urged to take the path that doesn’t really lead us to a successful life — just to gain an admission letter from a prestigious college. Somehow, numerous Korean students will make their way to the top Ivy League schools they aspire to. However, I doubt that all of them will do well in those universities.

It is not difficult to find people who went to Harvard, MIT or other prominent colleges but had to come back to Korea because they plagiarized, failed too many courses, or just couldn’t follow what they were taught. An article from your paper reported how many Koreans in American universities tend to fail; according to a study, Koreans predominate among foreign students who fail to make it on Ivy League campuses.

Of course one may pursue what one desires, such as going to a top university in the United States. However, one must understand that the role of admissions is to find out if a student is prepared to study and do research in an advanced environment — not how well one can score in tests or how cleverly one can write an admission essay.

As a high school student in South Korea, I believe that so many students have distorted views about the process. By this I mean that it is not going to such a good university that is emphasized. Just getting in is thought to be the top priority. Children are pushed to have these short-sighted and foolish ideas.

Any Korean must admit that this method of “education” is one aspect of Korean culture that dominates society and most people’s thinking.

In an era of globalization, our nation’s culture needs reform. If we are to excel in the global era, we Koreans must make sincere efforts to adopt global standards. We must make fundamental modifications in our education system. We already acknowledge the problem, and now we must think of a solution and act on it.

Hong Yoon-Ki a high school student

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