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[Opinion] KAIST’s New Admission Process

Posted October. 01, 2008 03:00,   


“Let’s restore high school education back to normal.” This has been a goal previous administrations always included in their education reform plans. They said high school should not be a place where students prepare only for college admission but also to gain knowledge and values they will need when joining the work force. This is true, but also sounds unrealistic. Eighty-four percent of high school graduates went to college this year, as well as 73 percent of vocational school grads. Let’s say a high school focuses on education unrelated to the college entrance exam. This would probably prompt students and their parents to protest the school’s policy.

High school, however, should not be like a private academic institute. Adolescence is a period of “Sturm und Drang,” as the German writer Goethe described, when one experiences a surge in emotions. Schools must provide emotional support to and foster dreams in students. Of course, a high school education cannot be free from the college entrance exam but it should not center on the exam. If a university narrows down its pool of applicants in selecting students, high schools have no choice but to train students how to meet admission requirements at the cost of providing necessary education.

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, or KAIST, has led college reform in Korea by increasing lectures in English and a tougher tenure selection. The school from 2010 will implement a new idea -- selecting students without announcing admission criteria. If KAIST announces its selection standards beforehand, many applicants will prepare for them at private institutes, making it difficult to tell a student’s true ability. That is so KAIST, which emphasizes creativity.

Though society wants universities to take social responsibility, it is the nature of universities to select the best students. None of the previous administrations could stop them. Still, the ideal talent of the future will be different from those of the past. The survival of universities lies in choosing the best students at a time when the country has a low birth rate. The experiment of KAIST should serve as a wake-up call to other universities.

Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)