The science loopholesKorean teenagers have kept up a splendid winning streak in the field of science on the international stage. The Korean team came in first at the International Physics Olympiad in July, and second, third and fourth respectively at the Chemical Olympiad, Earth Science Olympiad, and Olympiad in Informatics last month. But half of the science and math whizzes end up in medical school or overseas universities. In the age of the fourth industrial revolution, national competitiveness hinges on talent in creative and convergence science. But the current college entrance system and education environment precludes growth of such talents.
Data cited by Rep. Oh Se-jung of the People’s Party underscores the gloomy future of science in the country. Applicants for higher level basic science studies — physics, chemical, life science, and earth science — among high school students studying for college entrance have shriveled to a tenth of the number five years ago.
Math and science students study for the rudimentary level merely to get good scores instead of the purpose of exploring deeper studies. In 2012, the college applicants for high level chemistry studies totaled 36,238, or 5.58 percent of students taking the math and science college exams, but among 2016 candidates, the number reached a mere 3,936, or 0.67 percent.
In the high level physics exams, the ratio slipped to 0.59 percent from 2.94 percent. In the biology II exam, the ratio sank to 4 percent from 11.14 percent and in the earth science II exam , 1.78 percent from 3.85 percent. “Science-prone students’ skills and minds deteriorate if they avoid deeper and challenging studies,” Oh said.
As Oh pointed out, it becomes a problem if talented students shun deeper studies. All college applicants do not need to take the higher level science studies as a small number of universities demand it. But it is a different matter if contenders in international science competitions and elite science schools also refuse taking the subjects to get good scores in college exams.
We can never expect to breed innovative scientists if an Olympiad winner is prohibited from mentioning the feat in school records for college admissions. We must retool the college entrance and educational system if we want to stay competitive in the fourth industrial revolution age.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 21, Page 30