[Viewpoint] Give our students every chance

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[Viewpoint] Give our students every chance

A healthy society is one that offers many ways to climb up the social ladder and does not limit individual fortune to the extent of riches he or she is born to.

The strength of capitalism lies in equal opportunity. In that sense, our society still does not present capitalism in its best way because opportunities to overcome poverty and move upward in life remain scarce.

Children of low-income parents cannot afford to seek private tutors to compensate for insufficient public education like others do. Passing state bar exams had guaranteed a hike in social standing before, but that, too, has slipped beyond reach to those in the lower strata as the judicial office now requires affluence to support education and a degree at law school.

The state college exam that primarily determines entry to universities is conducted once a year. You usually end up with a degree from the college you got into, because transfer openings in schools that can help accomplish your aspirations are rare.

Lack of mobility in social structure hinders Korea’s movement toward an open and sound society.

Insufficient state exam results and academic grade reports should not constrain a young mind’s endeavors and dreams. Students wishing and ready to better themselves should be able to transfer to other universities. Many are late bloomers. With given incentives, they, too, can cultivate and excel in studies.

Universities can pave the way for a more open society by offering mobility based on performance. They, first of all, should radically expand transfer opportunities.

With greater flexibility in college transfers, students won’t limit themselves by one-time entrance exam results. Even as undergraduates, they will try to develop themselves to move to a better campus.

Universities should be strictly accomplishment-based and stop tolerating free riders. Under the current system, those who get in can graduate regardless of score average. Students performing poorly should be kicked out. Graduating should be more difficult than entering.

Courses to supplement skills needed for high-earning jobs and slack grading to help students trump up resumes will benefit neither the teaching faculty nor the students. Lecturers aren’t motivated to share information and expand their curriculums to challenge students, and inflated grades don’t do justice to students when they apply for higher education overseas or enter the job market.

When students realize they can be forced out due to poor performance, both learners and lecturers will attend to their role with greater responsibility and zeal. At the same time, students who worked hard and earned good records accordingly should be granted the choice to go to a better university.

After his visit to Korea, President Barack Obama cited the zeal of Koreans for education while campaigning for a new initiative to excite American students to learn.

But we, too, should look to the American educational system for incentives. Our education fever is centered on university entry because one wrong step can ruin one’s life. But the American system allows many opportunities and different paths after entering university.

Those with proven abilities can transfer to any other school. Even President Obama transferred after two years at Occidental College in California to Columbia University to study political science. He then went to Harvard Law School, where he graduated magna cum laude, with great honor.

Great talents mature late. Anyone should be given the opportunity to bloom through incentives, and society should encourage those who endeavor to improve themselves.

Where one ends up matters more than where or when one started. We need a society that gets you to that end depending on what’s in your head and heart, not your pocket.


*The writer is a professor of Spanish at Seoul National University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Man-ki
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