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[Opinion] Essay-Writing Education

Posted November. 06, 2006 03:00,   


Leftist educational groups are attacking university essay tests. Organizations like the Korean Teachers & Educational Worker`s Union (KTU) and the National Parents Committee for True Education (NPC) are staging a hunger strike in front of the Ministry of Education & Human Resources Development building, demanding the abolishment of “bongosa-style essay tests.”

Bongosa-style tests refer to the rigorous tests once administered by Korean universities as part of college entrance exams. However, the phrase “bongosa-style essay tests,” is obviously just an excuse not to divulge the groups’ true intentions. When the KTU opposed the teacher evaluation system, they claimed that they were not against the system itself, but the clumsiness of the relevant authorities handling it.

The Ministry of Education expressed its intent to strongly request universities ask easy essay questions at the presidential briefing. When it comes to policies concerning university admission, left-wing organizations and the government have been a great team. However, it is important to remember that the KTU is acknowledging the inability of teachers by opposing to essay tests. If essay tests are critical to college admission, isn’t it natural for teachers to put more emphasis on teaching essay writing?

There is also some misconception about essay tests. It is widely known that essay tests critically influence college entrance exam results. However, if you closely examine the admissions data of Seoul National University (SNU) in 2006, you will find that the fear of essay tests is misleading. The lowest mark of essay tests was 22 out of 25 and hardly anyone received an exceptionally high mark. Most of them had a similar score. People said essay tests would be advantageous to those few students living in Seoul’s affluent district Gangnam or studying in specialized high schools, but the outcome was different from this claim. Most students who topped the essay tests were students from provincial schools.

Former Culture Minister Lee O-young sparked controversy over the difficulty of essay tests by saying, “Even I wouldn’t be able to do well on SNU’s essay tests.” However, the essay tests of Korean universities are more focused on testing students’ creativity and ability to solve questions based on their understanding of textbooks rather than looking at their writing skills. Korean universities’ essay tests are different from those of the French college entrance exam Baccalauréat, which asked students this year, “Is escaping from time a rational thing to do?”

Universities that announced they would place more importance on essays tests in admissions starting 2008 have decided to establish an essay writing council where both universities and high schools participate to provide high schools assistance for essay-writing education. It’s now time for conservative leftist educational organizations to accept change and propose a concrete alternative to essay-writing education.

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