Simple is better
But education authorities are utterly naive if they believe making standardized exams easier will improve education standards in public schools and resolve all the problems related to the heavy competition to get into Korean universities.
The problem with Korea’s college entrance system is that students are evaluated on their intelligence and critical thinking after 12 years of schooling through a one-time test. That is too cruel an onus to put on students. The multiple-choice formula also has its limits in assessing a student’s cognitive and scholastic aptitude. Yet the standardized test, or sooneung in Korean, remains the decisive litmus test in determining a student’s success in getting into college.
A competitive evaluation system to select students for universities is necessary. But because of an over-reliance on a single test, the entire education process from elementary school through high school has turned into a lengthy preparation for one test. High school curricula revolve around test-prep books and materials. This cannot be normal. It would be wonderful if students’ self-esteem would face less bruising after test problems become easier. If that is the main purpose, the division of test administration into general and more advanced parts should be scrapped in math and Korean language as has been done with English.
The standardized test should recover its original function of evaluating students based on their learning. High schools should revert to their role as learning hubs instead of being cramming institutions. Schools are for learning, not institutions to churn out test-takers.
Classrooms should be alive with debates and exchanges, not silent dungeons where students are forced to memorize and absorb test questions. Teachers should be able to perform their function of sharing and fostering intelligence. This is possible only when students and teachers can get the college exam burden off their backs. An easier test could be the starting point.
Various barriers and divisions are breaking down in our society. Diversity is preferred over uniformity. College aptitude tests should also reflect changing times and gauge students based on their potential, behavior and future capabilities rather than an ability to solve multiple-choice questions. As long as the state judges individuals on test scores, their true potential will never be discovered.
In order to return authority in education to schools and admission selection to universities, teachers should be given the right to recommend and evaluate students. With such powers, teachers will feel more responsible for students’ learning. Teachers should be trusted to objectively observe a student in both academic and extra-curricular activities. Universities should have faith in their judgments and admit students based on their recommendations. Early decision applications based on school records and extracurricular activities or talents have already become an option for students.
Making the standardized test easier cannot solve the fundamental problems of cram school costs or competition. But it could help normalize public high school education. It will also encourage universities to seek diverse ways to admit students. Then the standardized test will lose its dreaded power over the fate of a student and a classroom can return to its original purpose of true learning.
The essence of our education problem is that it entirely revolves around the college entry exam. A radical change in admission systems through an easier test can encourage schools to groom talents in various fields. Tests should be easy, teachers entrusted with student evaluations, and universities be made freer to choose students that best fit them. The simplest way is sometimes the best way.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
* The author is a teacher of Daejin High School, Seoul.
BY Lee Sung-kwon