Ministry revision to math curriculum to ease difficulty level

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Ministry revision to math curriculum to ease difficulty level

School math tests will become much easier starting in 2017 under the education authority’s new guidelines, intended to reduce stress on students and revive their interest in the subject.

The Ministry of Education and the Korea Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Creativity on Friday announced the draft plan for revising the mathematics curriculum in 2015. The new curriculum, which will be implemented in elementary schools in 2017 and middle and high schools from 2018, focuses on easing stress on students and aims to allow students to be more creative and increase their capacity for data processing and the use of engineering tools like calculators.

It is also designed to help them build confidence in their mathematics abilities and learn more about the subject’s practical applications.

The ministry is planning to finalize the revision and make an announcement in September, after which it will work on new text books.

The most notable change in the revision is that it has guidelines for evaluation, which specify the types of questions teachers should include or omit on tests. For example, the draft plan specifies that middle school mathematics tests should not cover questions concerning the circumference or length of complicated plane shapes.

In the current curriculum, education authorities cannot restrict schools and teachers from including overly complicated questions on exams as long as the material is covered in the textbooks. The authorities will also adjust the curriculum to ease difficulty level.

Students who enter elementary school in 2017, for instance, will not be asked to learn applications for acres or hectares, units to measure area that are rarely used in Korea. They will also not have to convert pi as a numerical value, rather, they will simply be taught the principles of the mathematical constant.

From 2018, middle school math curriculum will also drop complicated usages regarding the greatest common denominators and the least common multiples. Simultaneous quadratic equations and the minimums and maximums for quadratic functions will be moved to the high school curriculum due to the difficulty level.

At high schools, the new curriculum will not cover simultaneous linear equations with three unknown quantities in common math.

“The entire curriculum drops about 20 percent of the learning material compared to the current curriculum,” said one expert who took part in drafting the revision.

Korea has always ranked as a top nation in evaluations by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but ranked 27th as far as interest in math and 33rd in confidence in math among 34 countries.

Experts’ responses have been polarized, and some welcomed the decision.

“Given that most of the burden in education comes from the difficulty of exams, I’d say the new guidelines for evaluation will have a positive effect,” said Ahn Sang-jin, the vice director of the civic group No Worries About Private Education.

Park Mun-hwan, who teaches mathematics at Inje High School in Incheon, however, was hesitant about the plan, worried that the new guidelines might restrict teachers’ discretion.

“But if teachers make use of the guidelines and if the Ministry of Education encourages it, it could possibly serve as a chance for us to expand our discretion.”

But other experts outright opposed the proposal.

“Every country has students who give up on mathematics, and the government shouldn’t be focusing on them when establishing the curriculum,” said mathematics professor Lee Yong-hoon, who teaches at Pusan National University and heads the Korean Mathematical Society. “Future industries are demanding more knowledge of mathematics.”

Kang Wan, a professor of mathematics education at Seoul National University of Education added that the ministry was lessening the burden of studying to lessen the emphasis on private education in the country.

“Easing the curriculum isn’t likely to work,” he said, “because competition among students will remain the same.”

BY SUNG SI-YOON, NOH JIN-HO [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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