Addressing academic polarization is key

2023. 12. 6. 20:11
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The country must set a new strategy to nourish young minds through education reform.

South Korean students, as expected, scored high in math, science, and reading on the 2022 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) administered by the OECD. Only Japan finished above Korea in math and science, and only Ireland and Japan surpassed it in reading. Koreans usually sweep top rankings in International Mathematics and Science Olympiads.

But the gap in individual students’ academic performance was big. The gap between the top and bottom performers was 98.1 percent — 1.4 times wider than the OECD average of 68.3 percent and much larger than the 69.2 percent gap that Korea reported 10 years ago. The finding suggests that low-achieving students abound in Korea. In a domestic survey, the ratio of ninth-graders performing below the global average in basic academic evaluations jumped to 11.1 percent last year from 2.2 percent in 2012.

More have been falling behind in academic basics since the academic test in elementary schools disappeared under liberal superintendents. Such academic setbacks at the elementary level accumulate to the high school level and influence a person’s life in adulthood. Wealthier families can afford to compensate for the losses through private tuition, but children from low-income families cannot catch up unless schools take care of them.

Academic basics are essential for students to continue learning and living as society members. The law stipulates that state and schools have a responsibility to provide basic learning. The rise of students performing below acceptable standards means the state has not properly done its job. A deepening divide in academic ability can hamper upward mobility and deepen inequality.

Korea must look into the mismatch between high scores and real academic ability. American and European students perform behind Koreans during their teenage years, but they do better after higher education. Korean students may get answers right through private and advanced learning, but they lag in creative problem-solving.

What drives humanity’s advances is the capacity to theorize the figurativeness in the physical world in common symbols in the form of language, math, and science. Humans think in language to build concepts and definitions and provide objective logic through reasoning and verification. What defines the academic standard is not the skill to get the right answer, but the way in which one’s brain explores the answer.

We need more mind training for self-deliberation, and not for memorization and simple problem-solving. It’s time for redefinition of academic standards. The education, currently oriented to pass the College Scholastic Ability Test must instead try to build creative minds that can think and pose questions on their own. The country must set a new strategy to nourish young minds through education reform.

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