Wasting talent

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Wasting talent

All things in this world depend on the people. The ultimate goal of a country’s governance must be nurturing the people’s character, because the rise and fall of the country depends on the people’s character and capabilities. Over the past century, we have accomplished enormous growth that everyone around the world acknowledges. And no one can disagree that education was the driving force.

And yet, we are facing the question of whether the current education system is enough to prepare for the future. First, creativity has disappeared in our education system. In order to prepare for changes in the future, we must educate the talent that can lead various advanced fields and allow Korea to become a leader in the world market. Since the 1990s, Japan has produced a scientist who has won a Nobel Prize every two or three years over the past two decades. There are 19 Nobel laureates in that country.

Second, the talented students, based on their school performances, are only pursuing careers in fields such as medicine and law. This is the dark side of a society where the old school ties play an influential role. Society needs to be changed to allow everyone to live a confident life after building any career based on talent and desire.

It is an important question whether we will just leave education to play a passive role of supporting the existing society or to play an active leverage role to reform a distorted one.

At the center of the problems associated with our education is the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT). Society is divided on this issue.

Some say that the CSAT must include difficult questions in order to encourage students to study hard, while making it easier for universities to select students. Others say that the CSAT must be easier so that the students can have some time to focus on education, their vocational interests and character, not just test preparation. No matter what direction the education authorities choose, there is always a voice of opposition.

None of the positions, however, is an answer to the fundamental problem of our education system. There is no logical and objective research to show that a difficult CSAT encourages the education of creative students. And the same stands true for the opposite argument.

One thing, however, is clear. The more difficult the CSAT is, the more pressure students will feel. And eventually, it will worsen the current trend that students with good grades will focus on lucrative majors.

Even if the CSAT is easy, the situation won’t be different as long as the universities use the test score as an important standard for admission.

None of them can be a resolution to the perennial problems of our education system. Unless we fundamentally change the basis of our education, we can never be sure about our future.

For example, a student who spends a long time in the laboratory for experiments is often not treated as a talented youngster in college admissions. Solving practice questions for the CSAT is more advantageous to enter a university. How can we expect to educate scientists with this system? It is destined to lose in global competition. And the same applies to all other fields.

We need to find a fundamental resolution and that is not about adjusting the difficulty of the CSAT questions. How long does our society have to be influenced by the established group that supports the “holiness” of the CSAT? This is not the time for short-sighted vision by being obsessed with “my child” and “my school.”

Our resolution must take a broad and comprehensive view to overcome the current deadlock in education. It must be a system to allow each student to run toward the direction of his or her own desire at his or her best pace and to acknowledge their efforts.

The students’ capabilities are not nurtured by solving practice questions. They should be nurtured in the classrooms, laboratories, playgrounds and the community through basic training, debates, experiments, volunteer work and many field experiences.

To this end, the students should be freed from the shackles of tests. We must not try to evaluate students using one single test system. If there were a CSAT system in sports, covering go, golf, baseball and swimming, Korea probably wouldn’t have the athletes we do today.

Even if the CSAT is kept, it must just evaluate students if they had enough scholastic performance to graduate from high school. The standard for the CSAT must be lowered so that students won’t have to waste the precious time they need to develop themselves. Teachers who know the students the best must evaluate them.

What Korea has accomplished until today was accomplished through education centered on chasing the frontrunners. But the current CSAT system is incapable of educating the talent that will find a new path for the future. We need to present to students the standard of their accomplishments and allow teachers to manage the standards, while society shows trust in the system.

The education system of Germany is something we can learn a lesson from. We need to allow youngsters to pay attention to their diversities and stimulate their creativity. And we need to make sure that they won’t experience failure and despair.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily

JoongAng Ilbo, July 23, Page 29

The author is the chairman of the Korea Student Aid Foundation.

by Kwak Byong-sun

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