Science the key to the 21st centuryA 10-year-old boy, who had to drop out of elementary school because of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, set up a laboratory in the basement of his house after reading a book his mother bought for him. He conducted all the experiments introduced in the book. Another 12-year-boy, who often skipped school, learned the basics of engineering and became interested in computer science while watching his father repair a used car in their garage.
These are the childhood experiences of Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs, both great American innovators of their time.
The story of a Korean student, who won the gold medal in the International Mathematical Olympiad last year, is also inspiring. As a young boy, his mother taught him the concept of multiplication by asking him to play with “jumping numbers.” His father explained the concept of simultaneous equations by explaining the two legs of a human and the four legs of a puppy.
All three share one thing: They all enjoyed science, which is like playing with puzzles, and it became a part of their daily lives in their upbringing.
We, however, saw a completely different episode last year. The youngest student ever admitted to a state-run university’s computer engineering department was also admitted into a private university’s dental school. He struggled to decide whether he wanted to become the best by studying computer engineering, which he always loved, or to have a more stable future by becoming a dentist. He eventually chose dental school.
It has become a problem in our society that students are increasingly avoiding science and engineering. Part of the problem is that children are not enjoying science classes at school, and we have failed to provide adequate education to teach them how science is linked to greater technologies and product development.
One of the latest global trends is finding the source of national competitiveness in reforming science education. Many countries, including the United States, Singapore and Britain, have already realized the importance of STEM - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - and are creating a new framework for science education.
The United States announced in May the Next Generation Science Standards, national guidelines designed to grow next-generation talents.
Britain, one of the strongest “creative economies,” declared that math and science will be at the core of its curriculums. The country also educates all students in elementary, middle and high schools using computers to help them adapt to the digital era and develop creative problem-solving abilities.
Korean parents, however, are busy turning off computers because they worry that their children are addicted to gaming. The start of a creative economy is creative ideas and thinking, and sharing these ideas with other people will influence society. The public interest is now moving from the “technology that feeds us” to the “technology that we can enjoy,” and imagination and creativity are more important than ever.
Furthermore, youngsters who actually experience the application of science in real-life problem-solving could potentially become great entrepreneurs. The Korea Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Creativity hosted the first Youth Technology and Entrepreneurship Olympiad, and various ideas were submitted to improve the many inconveniences of our daily lives. One student developed inner shoe soles using a 3-D printer that would correct arch problems associated with flat feet.
We must consider whether we are wasting our children’s time by failing to catch up to 21st-century changes.
Furthermore, the country must come up with a larger directional change in science education so that our children can see, experience and imagine all the possibilities of science.
Science must be fun. Without fun, no one can commit or come up with creative ideas. The zeitgeist of the 21st century is open-mindedness, reform, convergence and creativity.
Competitiveness for the future comes from the people with talents in science, technology and convergence.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is the president of the Korea Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Creativity.
by Kang Hye-ryun