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[Opinion] Essay and Independent College Entrance Exams

Posted January. 13, 2009 07:59,   


In 1998, then Education Minister Lee Hae-chan promised ninth graders that if they were good at one thing, they could go to college, namely grade point average, a specialty or the College Scholastic Aptitude Test. The following year, however, the government eliminated the late-night study program and cut the number of in-school mock tests. Students who believed Lee`s promise and did not study hard experienced great difficulty in the college entrance exam.

The 2002 college test was very difficult. A difficult test tends to hit hard students who failed to sufficiently study for it. Education authorities said GPA was more important, but universities did not trust inflated GPAs. Getting into college only with a specialty involved lottery odds. The government’s promise turned out to be a huge lie. The students, who are called Lee Hae-chan`s generation, must have experienced distrust and outrage when they took the college entrance exam.

The Chinese character for teaching (敎) means a teacher shows the right way with a stick in one hand and that his students respectfully follow him. Korean education, however, tends to teach false things to students time and time again. The essay test proposed by the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration is a case in point. When the government forced universities to use uniform admissions tests, they raised the percentage of essay tests to select smarter students. The schools made an inevitable choice because of their mistrust in GPAs, and the college entrance test was so easy, too many students received a perfect score. Though the government and universities claimed the essay test was a new alternative to the college entrance exam, it was a de facto alternative to former independent college exams including those on English and math.

No wonder that whenever essay tests were offered, complaints arose that they were no different than independent college exams. Colleges wanted essay tests similar to independent college exams while the government wanted them not to cross the line of essay tests. The result was a ridiculous “essay test guideline.” The Korean Council for University Education, which plans to announce the basic guidelines for the 2011 college entrance exam Thursday, will allow universities to include English text and math questions requiring problem solving in essay tests. This is likely to spark more controversy. A much better solution is to allow universities to give their own entrance tests freely in the interests of education and reality.

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