Lessons from Israel’s education approach
On April 29, a student performed his original piece on piano before a group of Korean visitors at the Israel Arts and Science Academy (IASA), a high school for gifted students founded in 1990. The visitors included Korean Minister of Education Hwang Woo-yea.
After the performance, the student was asked about his plan after he graduates. The visitors must have been expecting a plan to study composition at a prestigious conservatory. But he said, “I would like to spend a year volunteering for children of low-income families.”
His vision is influenced by the school’s emphasis on social responsibility. Students of different religions live in the boarding school, engaging in weekly discussions with counselors on social issues and current affairs. Every Tuesday, students are required to do community service. They tutor underprivileged elementary students or help the elderly or people with disabilities.
IASA’s first step in screening students is a psychological evaluation of applicants’ areas of interest and how they spend their leisure time. Since most students get low scores, the first step is not a major criterion for admission. The second step is an hour-long interview by teachers, focusing on intellectual curiosity. The school considers the third stage the most important. All applicants stay in the dormitory three days and the school closely watches their social development and interaction.
Gifted education in Israel aims to train talented young people in leadership, social responsibility and a democratic mind-set, as well as nurture their gifts. Classes are not simply taught by the teachers; students are given opportunities to achieve their own understanding through experiments and hands-on experience. In Israel, some students do a year of community service. Thirty percent of IASA graduates participate in this program, compared to 2 percent of graduates of other high schools.
In Korea, seven high schools, including science high schools, are designated for gifted and talented teenagers. They are highly competitive, and students begin preparing for admission from elementary school, getting extra help and tutoring. In middle school, applicants begin practicing advanced problems and taking accelerated tracks. They often graduate from science high schools and move on to medical school, which guarantees a stable professional career.
Israel has 140 scientists per 10,000 employees, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has produced seven Nobel Prize winners. Israel selects gifted students based on looser standards than Korea, but nurtures them as real elites to contribute to the nation and society. Hwang is promoting a plan to introduce IASA’s education model in Korea. Hopefully, the project can be a beginning to think about what kind of education we offer in Korea, which is in desperate need of leadership and social responsibility.
The author is a deputy national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 8, Page 34
by KIM SUNG-TAK