We don’t need the confusion

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We don’t need the confusion

Seoul National University has canceled its plan to accept cross-applications for its medical school. But the idea will continue to be floated as it aims to nurture adaptive human capital for a fast-changing, converging and complex society.

SNU called off the plan because the idea of accepting cross-applications by the prestigious medical school was a half-baked one from the beginning. And the original design - accepting humanities-focused high school students on top of natural science-focused students to the medical school - was favorable for students in elite foreign-language schools, but it disadvantaged those in the natural science category or in schools specializing in science and math.

If SNU designed the admissions process fairly, its experiment might not have generated so much opposition. However, even if it had come up with admission guidelines that were fair, would its cross-applications experiment really help achieve the goal of incubating well-rounded medical students?

I disagree that it would. The cross-applications system will only encourage opportunistic college applicants. Breeding multitalented and comprehensive human capital must start from a system of overhauling our overall high school education structure along with our college entrance procedures.

What did SNU’s plan mean for college applicants? It posed a question to students: Which field of study - the humanities or natural sciences - would help them better to get into the elite university’s medical school? Earlier, any aspiring medical students would not have had to ask this question. He or she would apply for the natural science division in high schools and study his or her compulsory course work on biology and chemistry in addition to the required language subjects.

For an aspiring doctor, choosing the humanities division would likely be seen as a way of getting better grades, particularly in math and sciences, to achieve a higher grade point average in high school. Seriously, what makes a graduate of a foreign language school - with an excellent command of a certain foreign tongue - who enters a medical school a better doctor or so-called convergence talent? A cross-applications college admission system under the current high school and college entrance systems would only baffle students and present them with an overly complicated equation to get into colleges instead of nurturing new-generation human capital.

The Ministry of Education said it plans to concoct a new education program to combine the humanities and natural science division for a unified standardized college entrance test for 2021 admissions. Due to the prestigious status of SNU and the potential repercussions of its policy on other universities and high schools, its cross-applications plan should be pursued in a bigger context.

There are two ways to foster future human capital with innovative and comprehensive intelligence and skills. The first: Universities can specify high school courses and test subjects needed for admission to certain departments. For instance, medical schools could designate chemistry, biology and ethics as compulsory high school courses and placement tests. If subjects are specified for each major category, there would be no need to divide general high school students into humanities and natural science divisions largely based on their math performance.

If the higher-level B math course - currently imposed on all natural science division high school students - isn’t necessary for medical school admission, students would have the option not to study the more difficult and rigorous math course. In other words, the curriculum should be tailored to best prepare for the courses the student plans to study based on what he or she hopes to pursue as a career instead of simply breaking down the boundaries between the humanities and science divisions.

Another way would be to allow high schools to pursue a convergent curriculum to educate students to build a comprehensive intelligence so that universities can admit students based on their performance in the integrated program their high schools developed. For instance, a group of students could set up a program to help African children. They would have to apply various humanities, social and natural sciences knowledge to come up with an inventive program. If high schools allow optional intensive courses on such projects and universities put value on these activities in the admissions process, high school classrooms could be brimming with inventive ideas and the creative application of them.

Instead of pursuing the flashy and overly experimental policy of allowing humanities students into medical schools, SNU must first diversify its admissions targets to encourage more inventive and creative applicants from high schools across the country.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is co-president of the Good Teacher Campaign.

By Kim Jin-woo

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