[Viewpoint] Testing times for college entrance

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[Viewpoint] Testing times for college entrance

Our education system is too chaotic. Despite the Korean saying that education must be planned for 100 years to come, our education authorities have changed the setup all too frequently. Whenever a new administration takes office, it shouts for education reform. But the reality is private education has thrived and public education has faltered. As a result, society is increasingly feeling the burden.

In high schools, the new university admission officer system is currently a major issue. The system is, however, very complicated. In a recent radio address, President Lee Myung-bak said all universities will adopt the new admission system by the end of his term of office, a move that will create a huge headache for high schools.

After the president made his remarks, an adviser to the council for future planning, which is supervised by the president, said that the new university admission officer system might lead to increases in private tutoring. His comment was perceived as an attempt to prevent the admission system from spreading too quickly. He expressed worries that private tutoring for individuals to teach how to write cover letters, compile portfolios and prepare interviews and oral tests may become popular.

The policy is clearly not well understood within the administration, making it difficult for high schools to give out the right information and guidance to students and parents.

The new system, and the confusion surrounding it, puts high schools in a very difficult position, since they are the ones responsible for giving guidance to students on university entrance.

In general, introducing the university admission officer system is a good idea because universities will be able to screen students based on their potential, talent, circumstances and overall high school performance, instead of simply looking at high school grades and entrance test scores.

In doing so, students may feel less stressed about grades and scores, offering high schools the chance to normalize their curriculums.

However, what high schools really want is for the education authorities to understand the difficulties that they face because of a lack of preparation and information about the introduction of the new system. In May, the Korean Council for University Education presented four-step guidelines to make the system more fair: announcements should be made in advance; the screening of students should be based on letters and documents; there should be an in-depth interview; and the final selection should be a collective decision.

Nonetheless, even these guidelines are not enough to offer sufficient information and counseling to students and parents. Since the preparations for university entrance start next month, high schools desperately want universities to publicize information about the new entrance system’s criteria and methods for selecting students, in great detail and as early as possible.

Another worry concerns the status of the officers responsible for the administration of the admission system. Only 11.5 percent of the university admission officers at 39 universities who will screen students are full-time workers, and most of the officers at major universities including Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University, are temporary workers.

It’s fair to say that Koreans are some of the world’s most passionate consumers of higher education and are perhaps more obsessed than most with university entrance. They know better than anyone that entry must be based on objectivity and fairness and that the system must be reliable.

But for the past few decades, because of the overriding influence of the university entrance test, a single question on the test could determine a candidate’s fate, allowing one person to be admitted and another to be rejected. But Korea has grown used to the test and changes to university admission will cause concern for parents and students alike, especially since abstract criteria such as creativity, potential and talent will be taken into consideration to select students.

Therefore, the authorities must provide sufficient information about the new system to high schools and try its best to make the system reliable.

*The writer is the principal of the Haksan Girls’ High School in Busan.

by Kim Jin-sung
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