Middle school students to get a test-free semester

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Middle school students to get a test-free semester

The Ministry of Education announced yesterday that, starting from 2016, it will implement a so-called “Free Semester System,” an activity-oriented semester designed to teach students through a broad range of engaging methods such as discussion, outdoor activities and team projects and put less emphasis on test scores.

The Education Ministry said that all middle schools nationwide will adopt the new school program by 2016 after it administers a pilot project in 37 schools next semester of this year, in September.

Yesterday’s announcement stems from President Park Geun-hye’s campaign pledges of the same name that she said will foster creativity and innovation, a departure from the rote-learning still prevalent in many schools.

“We should eliminate the perception that lectures should be done only in classrooms. They can take place in such different places as museums, exhibition halls, concerts and libraries,” said Park during a briefing yesterday with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. “We need to build an environment where well-rounded, creative, talented people can develop their potential as early as possible. This is why I tried to adopt the new semester system,” she said.

In a country with serious “education fever,” Korean students are known for their excellence in math and science, but rote-learning and standardized tests entrenched in the education system - combined with ferocious competition - has been blamed for placing too much pressure on students and stifling more diverse thinking.

“The way students are scored is not based on how they perform on multiple choice tests, but how much and in what way they engage in discussions and team projects,” Yoo Jung-sup, an official of the Ministry of Education told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“The essence of the new education program is teaching the major subjects like math and English in more diverse and engaging ways,” he said, adding that the new policy will not be the same as other countries’ special semester system, like Ireland’s Transition Year, which mostly focuses on offering vocational training and living skills.

“But, through the teaching methods and activities, students might have more time to think about their future career and talents and we will give more autonomy to the schools to set a timetable and determine which semester they will adopt the program,” said Yoo.

The schools are likely to offer more specialized classes on career exploration as all middle and high schools have to hire at least one guidance counselor under the new initiative.

The Education Ministry also unveiled other reforms in the education system as it plans to ditch the Nationwide Scholastic Achievement Test for elementary schools and reduce the subjects of the test from five to three (Korean, English and math) for middle schools in order to lift the burden for younger students.

By Park Eun-jee [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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