Reform education process, then testThe recent reform proposal by the Ministry of Education encompasses not just modifications in the state-administered college entrance exam, but potential fundamental changes in high school education by unifying the divisions between liberal arts and natural sciences. The education system is a state blueprint on how to educate young people. The college entrance exam is a scholastic review and cumulative result of the education process. Standardized tests can be credible and productive when based on a stable and consistent high school education. But as a teacher, it is lamentable that the ministry has proposed a unified College Scholastic Aptitude Test that is currently administered differently for liberal arts and natural sciences students before discussing the reorganization of the high school education system.
A unified education system, without the division of liberal arts and natural sciences to study and focus on different fields of subjects except for Korean, English, and math, is the right direction in order to foster more adaptable and open minds. To do so, current school education must be revamped first, and the college entrance test later, according to a due adaptation process. Even if it believes it needs to make such a drastic policy move, the government is wrong to seek such a major change in the testing structure without first considering the education process.
Currently, students study at schools by selecting subjects in their liberal arts or natural sciences divisions. From their first year in high school, students choose and study subjects that are compulsory in the college test section they plan to sit in for. If the test is combined into one, instead of two sections for liberal arts and natural science, students must study a number of subjects from both fields. Schools must guide students on what courses they should choose according to their interests and future goals. In order to administer a unified test, high school education also must be unified. But the ministry has skipped that process and is merely proposing reform in the test structure. Many agree that the division in liberal arts and natural sciences is outdated, but that alone cannot be a reason to hastily pursue change in the college entrance test.
High school education cannot be changed overnight. Social consensus must be built before changing the fundamental education system. Authorities must be able to present a comprehensive outline on what the changes and direction would be, as well as details on the changes in each course and subject. Accordingly, textbooks must also be rewritten. All these processes and work require a lot of time and effort. It is not appropriate to announce a new direction in the college exam from 2017 without specifically unveiling what changes next year’s high school freshmen, the class that will be the first to be subjected to the new system, would face.
The selective testing in the current system that will be first implemented in this year’s college entrance exam was announced three years ago. Because the change was enforced without giving enough time to schools, the selective system is now at risk of being thrown out the window after just one year. Teachers protest that students are victimized because authorities concoct and trot out education policies in their offices without listening to the voices of students and teachers. The unified test system could turn out to be a half-baked idea that goes to waste soon with a new administration.
The ministry plans to go on a nationwide tour and hold public hearings five times from early September to gauge public opinion on its set of proposals. But that is not enough time to decide on a major change in the education system. The ministry must listen to voices from all sectors. It must listen to complaints from students and parents who fear the changes will translate into extra workloads and more pressures for students. No matter how good the intentions may be, policy changes must be carried out in a manner without damaging the students whose future are at stake.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is the head of Seoul Jinhak (College Entrance Guidance) Council and teacher at Daejin High School.
By Lee Sung-kwon