Beware the ill effects

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Beware the ill effects

Let me put it bluntly. Between academic grades and extracurricular activities, which is more influenced by parents? It is, of course, extracurricular activities. With the college admission officer system, not only an applicant’s grades but also extracurricular activities are taken into account, so the outcome is largely influenced by parents’ status. Therefore, the college admission officer system threatens the public nature of education and the principle of equal opportunity.

Selecting applicants solely based on academic performance was often criticized, but among advanced countries, only the United States and the U.K. consider extracurricular activities in college admissions. Germany, France, Sweden, Finland and many other countries select students based only on their college admission test scores and high school grades. Some universities in Canada require applicants to submit essays and some schools in France require recommendation letters, but those are exceptions.

In other words, selecting students based on academic performance is more than enough to advance our education system. The problem of the Koran education system, therefore, is not about selecting students based on grades. What are they?

First, the competition to get good grades is too fierce. The college admission officer system does not ease the competition. Instead, it expands the scope of competition. Parents complain that they used to pay attention to their children’s grades, but now they have to pay attention to their children’s extracurricular activities as well.

Second, the standards of grading academic performance are too rigid. They focus on finding the correct answers and fail to allow the students to develop various abilities. For instance, students learn about the Japanese invasion of Korea from 1592-98 three times during elementary, middle and high school, but they never read Admiral Yi Sun-sin’s diary from that time. No teacher assigns it, and no discussion takes place in the classroom. Students don’t even consider it during an exam.

Korean students, therefore, have very low interest in their academics - one of the lowest from around the world, and their education in the humanities is separated from practical education. As a result, they grow into adults lacking crucial speaking and writing skills.

Why can our schools not talk about Admiral Yi’s diary? It’s because of the extremely strong bureaucratic controls over teachers’ way of teaching and evaluation of students. Moreover, the college admission test is all about “finding the correct answers” with multiple choice questions. The college admission officer system has no substantial effect in resolving these problems.

It is undeniable that the admission officer system has some merits. The system contributed greatly to the recent change where students and parents are paying more attention to the youngsters’ future careers and their voluntary activities. But it is inappropriate to expand the system further.

Selecting students through the college admission officers’ evaluation should be allowed for a certain quota within the social consensus - in a limited way, so to speak.

To this end, the precondition should be banning various extracurricular specifications which won’t be included on applicants’ school records. It is linked to the reform of selecting methods of special-purpose high schools three years ago.

Although only a small number of students were selected by college admission officers, Seoul National University recently increased the quota for early admissions to 80 percent, requiring all applicants to submit personal statements and allowing them to submit any supplementary data to prove their qualifications. That fueled competition in the private education industry.

The Lee Myung-bak administration gave universities freedom to select their students, but President-elect Park Geun-hye will likely put the brakes on it. She pledged to simplify the complex college admission systems and limit the scope of essay writing, signaling a government intervention in college admissions. In this context, the college admission officer system should be revised toward restriction.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is an education critic and former policy advisor of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.

by Lee Beom
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