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[Editorial] Dooming Nat’l Scientific Power and Ignorance of Candidates

[Editorial] Dooming Nat’l Scientific Power and Ignorance of Candidates

Posted December. 05, 2007 08:26,   


The OECD published the 2006 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) results yesterday, a worldwide test of 15-year old schoolchildren’s scholastic performance. This year’s triennial test compared students of 57 countries (including 30 OECD member states). Korean students ranked 1st in reading comprehension, and also won the top two positions in math. We are proud and happy for them. But in science, they scored 522 points, finishing 11th. Their performance in science has been on decline, falling from the 1st spot in 2000 and 4th in 2003.

Experts point to the mandatory 7th national educational curricula of the Roh administration as the source of the problem. Under this program, math still remains a required course, while most science-related subjects have become electives. Starting in 2002, therefore, the science classes dwindled from 4 hours a week to three for middle and high school freshmen. Furthermore, the scope of the classes was narrowed by 30%. South Korea in general is a tough society for science majors to stand out. On top of it, the “elective change” has given students an excuse to avoid tough subjects, a trend which has spread to middle school students. The recent PISA report attests to the problem.

The Roh administration’s education policy that copies American teaching methods has proven empty. Of course it is ideal to conduct science classes at American-style. In reality, it is hard to swallow. Korean students do not have the luxury of running scientific experiments throughout a school year. Under these circumstances, investigative learning means nothing. Students have to memorize test results without conducting any tests at all. Roh does not see the gap between the reality faced by students and the ideal situation his administration pursues.

The level of a country’s science and technology is a barometer of that country’s competitiveness. Science and technology cannot advance without sound teaching about the basics. In this context, the recent performance and the continuing trend cannot be taken lightly. In 2001, Germany, for example, ranked 20th in science and 21st in math among 31 OECD countries on the PISA. The country took this as a national disaster and formed a special committee to boost its national scientific power.

Korean scientists and educators heavily protested Roh’s new educational system and demanded a “tougher” science program. What’s disappointing is that no candidate has made any promises to deal with this problem. Actually, they do not even seem to be aware of this disaster in the making, since we don’t hear anything about this matter from them. Having watched the situation, we cannot help but deem campaign pledges as pipe dreams.

Real academic achievement starts in the classes of elementary, middle and high school students. The first step can be made only when we revamp our science and math curricula like our advanced counterparts.