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[Opinion] Basic Academic Achievement

Posted August. 29, 2005 03:07,   


One of America’s headaches is the ever-worsening academic performance of its youth. Among fourth graders, 36 percent failed to achieve a basic level of reading, and 23 percent failed in mathematics. This situation demonstrates why President George W. Bush came up with “No Child Left Behind,” a catchphrase for his administration’s education reform.

In Korea, the percentage of third graders who failed to show basic academic prowess was 2.89 percent in reading and 4.63 percent in mathematics as of 2004, a much more satisfactory level than the U.S. However, when we take a closer look, we cannot be all optimistic. The academic achievement gap is greatly widening among different regions. According to a survey of 370,000 junior-high students in Seoul, Gangnam district (Seoul’s most prestigious district) had only 0.37 percent of students who failed to reach a basic level of academic performance, while another district had 3.3 percent, nine times higher than Gangnam. In a district with a larger number of lower-income level households, students did a poorer job.

Concerns are being raised that poverty may be passing down from parents to their children. When students from lower-income families start to lag behind early in life, their chances to live a decent life get even slimmer. With ever-intensifying wealth disparities, basic academic achievement is desperately needed for lower income brackets whose only hope is to break away from poverty lies in education. The growing number of divorced parents is another factor that deprives children of more education opportunities.

Students who can get no help from their parents or private tutoring are those who most desperately need assistance. This is a true mission for teachers. Even though the education authorities have adopted a university admissions system that can encourage equal education, it does not help students who lack favorable circumstances for their studying. The real solution is to assign more budget and talented teachers to schools with more lower-income families. A lot of students with great potential must have lost their opportunity to shine because of bad conditions. Giving hope to those children is true education.

Hong Chan-sik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com