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[Opinion] Fostering an Environment for a Scientist`s Dream

[Opinion] Fostering an Environment for a Scientist`s Dream

Posted February. 08, 2002 09:34,   


Already two years have passed since we entered the 21st century. The saying that the 20th century was an age electricity while the 21st century is the age of light implies that we have become accustomed to living conditions.

Recently, technological advancements in computing, human cloning and such has infiltrated our daily lives. In light of this development, I cannot shake off this despairing feeling when I look at the state of our education.

The recently finished admissions to Seoul National University sciences division including natural sciences and engineering recorded the lowest rate of enrollment in history with 81.9 percent in the natural sciences, and 81.7 percent in engineering. In contrast, the enrollment rate in the medical school and law school was quite high with 97-99 percent.

This is not simply a passing fad. The sensible explanation that the sciences are more difficult and the competition is much higher cannot console us. The students` avoiding the natural sciences is not unrelated to their performance in the mathematic skills exam which is reflected in college admissions.

It is clear why the schools promote the humanities over the natural sciences where it is harder to achieve higher marks. Yet, I want to ask whether we provide sufficient opportunities for students in schools to understand the sciences and engineering studies. For example, how would elementary school students react if they learn about the natural sciences in a well-established college science lab?

99 percent of them would find it a good thing, their understanding of and interest in the sciences would increase, and in the future they would not hesitate to choose the more difficult path of becoming a scientist. Furthermore, if they come across something that they cannot understand, they can gather information from the Internet and our education can truly develop and blossom. The love of learning can begin with this kind of `understanding.`

No matter how much we emphasize the importance of the foundational sciences, no matter how many time we preach about its necessity for the nation`s economy, we have to understand that our words are like empty mantras if we do not help our students experience the sciences for themselves.

Can we really say that the decision that our parents make for their children`s education – to enter the professional classes rather than the sciences - is the best one when we are in a situation where the cost of private lessons alone make up 80 percent or more of our total education expenses?

Will we not make our children more happy if we gave them the freedom to choose their own educational paths by stimulating their interests and love for a field?

I want to paint a scenario of what would happen if we raised our children to be persons who `succeeded by their intellect` as the educational psychologist Professor Sternberg of Yale University wrote.

A person who succeeds by his intellectual curiosity considers knowledge to be fundamental but wisdom to be even more so. This person builds his ability to reason and collaborate with others on his own interestedness and acquired knowledge. Such a person who can solve problems creatively will be suitable to lead our nation and its economy.

The characteristics of such a person is particularly well suited for scientists. In fact, our understanding of the economy is too simplistic.

We think that making a lot of money is the most important thing and, one suspects, want to ensure high social status for ourselves and our children. Consequently, we promote professional schools like medical and law schools rather than promoting creative thinkers in the sciences. In actuality, however, the world`s richest man Bill Gates is a scientist who put all of his creativity to work, and prosperity in the future will be built upon a new economy driven by creative scientists.

When I look at things from a larger perspective, I cannot help but worry that we and our children are trapping ourselves in materialism. I hope that may people will work hard and become interested in fostering an environment where our children can dream of becoming scientists as soon as possible.

Lee Sang-Chun (Kyungnam Education Center for the Gifted in Science, Director, Kyungnam University)