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[Op-Ed] Terminology War

Posted January. 23, 2009 09:40,   


Former Education Minister Kim Shin-il has complained about the term “the three-no policy.” Though he strongly pushed for the same policy that bans the high school grading system, independent college entrance exams, and admission by donation, polls show many feel the policy is not right. Kim saw that the opposition stems from the negative image of the term meaning stopping colleges from doing something. The term “high school grading system” is also an unfair expression.

When colleges select students, they cannot help but consider from what high schools they graduated. This is because high schools have differences in region and educational conditions. Moreover, there are gaps in academic performances.

Colleges want to choose students by reflecting such differences. This is part of the rights universities have when they select students. The expression “grading system,” however, got a chilly reception from high school students. They said colleges are treating them like pieces of meat. In other words, the system discriminates students like grading meat by quality.

More cases in which terminology decides the right and wrong of a system are found in education. Take for example the national scholastic exam. Many in their 40s and 50s fret that all students have to take the test the same day and will be ranked from top to bottom. While today’s so-called National Academic Performance Assessment has a different content and purpose, liberals say it is reminiscent of the notorious “nationwide exam” of the past.

The “level-based class system” to be introduced to middle and high schools this year is likely to face the same fate. Under the system, students are put into upper, intermediate and lower level classes depending on their academic performance in major subjects. Criticism of ability grouping into two groups has always been around. But it is much better for individual students to take different classes. If a student is good at English while not so good at math, he or she can take advanced English and intermediate or lower-level math. This is different from ability grouping that simply splits a class into two groups. Discrimination is an easy way to instigate students at school, where there are more poor-performing students than good-performing ones. Under this circumstance, educational authorities should not succumb to a “terminology war” to implement policies. At the very least, they should pay extra attention to allow objective terms to take root.

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