Don’t let them give up on mathA study led by a private group of educators underscored the problems in Korea’s math education that could serve as a meaningful reference when the Ministry of Education presents a revised curriculum in September. The poll shows that six out of 10 high school students have given up on math. A group called “A World without Worries about Private Education” questioned 9,022 students and teachers in public schools. About 36 percent of elementary students, 46 percent of middle school students and 60 percent of high school students referred to themselves as hopeless in math. The poll clearly points to the danger in the country’s math education.
Math is an important subject, not because it takes up a significant share of the college entrance exam, but because mathematical work that involves understanding a concept and its applications, and the process of problem solving, are crucial to leading a productive life. The aptitude is required not only of students who wish to pursue higher studies and careers in science and technology, but also for humanities-oriented minds. But math today has become a hard and incomprehensible subject. Math education has been designed to find the right solution, not to teach students how to think. Globally, Korean students excel in answers but are at the bottom in interest and confidence in math.
We all know why students give up on math. There is too much material that needs to be mastered before the college entrance exam. Korean elementary schools teach math concepts that are taught in middle schools in other countries. The middle school students learn what is taught in high school classes in foreign countries. Since there is little time for schools to teach all the concepts, Korean students must rely on cram schools and private tutors to finish courses and get passable grades.
The college entrance exam makes matters worse. High aptitude levels are required from students who do not need advanced knowledge for their college studies. Twelve years of school is dedicated to one purpose - getting into good colleges - and kindergarten students receive a set of problems to solve the first time they encounter math.
We will never become a scientific and innovation powerhouse this way. The goal of math education must be redefined and the curriculum revised. Not all our students need to be math geniuses. Students should be able to study math according to their capacity and interests. Math should be focused to stimulate and develop a problem-solving mind. We hope the education authorities will keep this in mind when they issue new guidelines.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 25, Page 26