Quality more critical than quantityThe Ministry of Education’s guideline for school curriculum revision in 2015 has been designed to reduce schoolwork up to 30 percent. The proposed changes have stoked controversy and concerns about weakening the country’s academic rigor while others believe the free time will give students more time for experience and creativity.
The revised school curriculum guideline has become a hot topic throughout Korea. The debate is desirable and understandable, but all the discussions must place students’ interests above all else.
Those who approve of downscaling the amount of schoolwork say it will ease Korea’s uniquely rigorous after-school system of private schooling. Others fear the opposite. Students may rely more on private tutoring or cram schools, and could lose competitiveness if they do not get adequate instruction on certain subjects at their schools.
Those who oppose a reduction in schoolwork are mostly scholars in the education field. They believe students must learn difficult things even if they do not want to. They instead argue for an increase in class hours so that students can do all their learning in school, rather than in private academies afterwards.
Few would argue against the importance of children acquiring all necessary knowledge through mandatory education. But not everyone can agree on what “necessary” really means when it comes to knowledge.
For example, the 2009 school curriculum included in science courses topics and ideas that even scientists were unfamiliar with, because advisers insisted they were “necessary.” Both teachers and students had to wrangle with the complicated concepts. Narrow-mindedness and misunderstanding led to the confusion. Scientific concepts must be taught to deepen students’ understanding of science, not make them memorize strange names and formulas.
The call to make schoolwork more rational is not just about lessening the burden for students, but also on raising the efficiency of their studying. It is not simply making students memorize 50 new things instead of 100. The reduced quantity would allow students more time to understand a concept, as well as think critically about the context that surrounds it.
For example, instead of making students memorize a long list of regional produce in a geography class, they should be asked to think about how local farms or industrial products affect their lives and the regional economy.
Instead of learning by the rote the dates of historical events, students should understand the cause and effect of each incident, and should consider on their own why certain events were emphasized in a textbook while others were not. This kind of critical thinking is more important than merely remembering a name and date.
Reducing the amount of schoolwork upgrades the quality of learning. Teachers complain that they cannot have discussions in classes because they are in a rush to cover topics and subjects for tests. The scale-down should not stop at reducing the quantity of schoolwork. The selection of essential topics and courses, and the retooling of lessons to improve their comprehensiveness, should be the aim.
Students don’t just feel burdened by the amount of work they’re given. They also struggle because they are tested on concepts they’ve had time to memorize but not understand. They have had the joy that comes from learning stripped from their experience of education.
If educators believe knowing everything is crucial to sustaining students’ competitiveness, they must decide what really needs to be studied. It’s the quality, not the quantity, of knowledge that determines a student’s competitiveness.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is an education professor at Ewha Womans University.
by Hwang Gyu-ho