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[Opinion] How to Support “Poor But Bright Children’?

Posted June. 08, 2007 04:36,   


When the authorities make education policies, they use Gangnam, a rich district in Seoul, as the standard. When it comes to the gap between poor and rich, they also mention the district. They first mention the achievements of schools in the area that send many students to elite universities and compare those in other areas. Then, they deplore the ‘widening gap between rich and poor,’ and conclude that more children in poor regions should be able to go to privileged universities. So they came up with a new policy: a transcript-based evaluation, a system that values the curbed scores one gets at a school more highly than nationwide standardized test scores.

Apparently, it makes sense: as there are a lot of brilliant students in Gangnam, they would do poorly in comparison with those in needy areas. It may be mathematically right, but in reality it is different. Statistics released by universities show that those who get good grades mainly come from “big” high schools. Gangnam has many big schools that have 500-600 students per grade. That means the district has more high-level group students than others. As levels are determined by the percentage system, a bigger population has a larger number of high-level students. By contrast, a school in rural area that has about 100 students has fewer high-level group students, even if the percentage remains the same.

The policymakers who tried to curb the housing prices in Gangnam will soon regret what they have done. By making an armchair decision on policies, they failed to succeed. They should have seen the reality of education from the perspective of the low-income group, not Gangnam’s. They should have agonized over what people really wanted. Fortunately, Gyeongbuk University decided to teach smart kids who are talented in math and science and from the underclass, as well as their opposite cohort. Guro-gu, a district in Seoul, plans to provide essay-writing classes to its top students. Korea Minjok Leadership Academy, a private school, has educated five students from low-income families for free since last year.

Such substantial support helps low-income households. “After-school programs” where poor children can learn with less money are more helpful than anything else. It was last May, three years after his inauguration, when president Roh Moo-hyun said, “After-school programs should be continued, even if government bonds have to be issued.” Was it a belated realization after indulging in big debates over ‘progress’ and ‘reform’? The phrase “make yourself from nothing” really fits Korea’s education system.

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