A very hard lesson learned

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A very hard lesson learned

Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology is the incubator for the country’s science and technology intelligence and talent. But the state-funded school has recently been in the spotlight for something it cannot be proud of - student suicides.

A fourth student in the first four months of this year has committed suicide, raising serious questions about the university’s fundamental education system. The reason for taking one’s own life may spring from personal problems, but the school environment may nevertheless partly be blamed.

Students and the teaching staff are one voice in complaining over the school’s intense competitive education system. Kaist president Suh Nam-pyo upon inauguration in 2006 initiated a program to hone education standards that generated both advantages and downsides.

The school strengthened the screening of tenure and assessment of professors to sack those who fall behind in research, breathing fresh air into the high-brow lecturing society. But at the same time, it increased pressure on students by penalizing them with tuition fees for low grades or poor attendance records and teaching all classes in English.

The tuition penalty would have served as immense stress, rather than academic drive, for students who usually choose public-funded schools for less of a tuition burden. The students who are accepted to the prestigious school have been at the top for most of their lower education and could have suffered enormous a psychological setback upon getting such penalties, pushing some to even consider suicide. It is pitiful that the school failed to come up with ideas to stimulate academic passion through encouragement and praise rather than the means of penalty and humiliation. Converting all classes to English language also only ended up undermining course understanding among pupils.

Universities must stay alert to raise competitiveness to keep up with other global rivals. But we can hardly expect creativeness, innovation and ambition from a campus ripe with complaint of unhappiness and distress.

The school should pay more attention to its students and their needs to improve the learning environment. It shouldn’t stop at chucking away the penalty system. The board should call for a confidence vote on the president. If deemed necessary for the interests of students and school, he should step down. We hope the school can quickly restore its better name as mecca of science.
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