The University Life
Kyung Hee University
“The Future of the College Entrance Examination in Korea”
October 1, 2014
The question of how entrance exams in Korea can be reformed is both a simple one and a complex one. As these exams have caused such suffering for youth, and such distortions in the priorities that inform education, it would seem a simple task to just revise the exams so that they reflect the needs of students. However, as long as Korea is dominated by a social values system that judges people on the basis of the schools they attend, and that narrowly defines the social status of people, whatever reforms we make in the tests themselves will be distorted by need to insure a harsh competition that generated by the structure of society itself. Reform will prove illusionary.
Of course we can make concrete suggestions as to how exams could be reformed. Examinations could cover more about art, literature, history and society. The questions could be in the form of essays that are judged on their creative content and the grading could accept multiple approaches to answers so as to allow for a greater diversity of thinking and of learning.
The essays could also contain more of ethical or philosophical content and include questions wherein the student is asked to consider the meaning of the issues he treats, and their moral implications. Essays could even ask students to make proposals for a better world and for a more fair society. Such tests would encourage a deeper engagement in issues and would reward students who read broadly, rather than those who follow perfectly a particular routine in cramming for tests.
Finally, exams could be collaborative in nature. We can create tests wherein students must work together with other students on a joint project as part of the exam, thereby encouraging a culture of cooperation, rather than competition. Those who are most cooperative and more considerate would be at an advantage in the exam.
But if the purpose of the exam is to allow students to move up socially and economically, rather than to learn, and if the general public considers that moving up socially and economically is the highest priority, then the examination system will be distorted in its application, and reduced to a ritual concerning power and status no matter what is done. Of course the reforms suggested above could be useful, but their impact would be limited.
So the real source of reform must be rather a new set of values among average citizens. These new values must put a priority on cooperation with others as a means to build a better society, and those values should be taught from kindergarten.
We need a culture in which the value of all careers, from CEO to janitor, from elementary school teacher to farmer, to electrical engineer are seen as essentially equal in social status and if some careers provide more money, that difference in pay should be something shameful, rather than something glorious.
If such a new value system were introduced, even partially, the exam system problem might solve itself naturally. If someone who went to study plumbing after high school is treated and paid about as well as someone who is a Ph.D then those who like learning will become Ph.Ds.