by Daniel Bennett
I've aware of the emphasis that Asian culture places on children receiving a good education and have heard some amazing stories of the amount of preparation that students do for exams, but I read an article in the Wall Street Journal on the commute to the office this morning that made me raise an eyebrow and question the attitude towards education in America.
In Korea, apparently the entire country all but shuts down on the national college entrance exam day. Korean society goes to great lengths to ensure that students are provided the fairest and optimal test-taking conditions, engaging in customs that are intended to reduce noise pollution and traffic. Some of these rituals inclue isolating the test creators from outside communication until the exam is complete, banning airplanes from landing, asking workers to come to work late, giving children not taking the exams the day off, and parents spending countless hours in churches and temples praying that their children will do well. The Koreans take every precaution in providing students with a fair and distraction-free exam.
So what is all the fuss? Apparently, Korean colleges have traditionally based admission on a single criterion - the national entrance exam. Many believe that this provides unadulterated access to the nation's higher education system and is the only equitable means of admission policy. Recently, there has been a movement to add other criteria to the admissions process at Korean institutes, but the tradition of national test day persists and the culture-wide value placed on education continues to impress.
So what lessons can America learn from Korea?
For one, American students should take a moment to consider how lucky they are to have an opportunity to gain a college education and start putting forth some real effort to learn something. I've heard many professors proclaim that college students have increasingly become consumers, demanding grades and degrees in exchange for the tuition that they paid, with very little effort going into learning.
Next, the US could certainly take a course in providing equitable opportunities for all students in lieu of all of the test prep companies that making a living by shoring up the results of those able to afford the course, which arguably hinders the chances of being accepted to a more selective school for low-income students. Maybe there should be a line on college applications immediately following the reporting of ACT/SAT scores that asks, "Did you take a test prep course? If so, which one?" This would allow admission officers to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Of course, this would all depend on honesty from the applicants.
Finanlly, the higher education community should stop resisting attempts to measure student learning outcomes with a standardized test. This avoidance of providing useful public information raises concern that universities are not adding any value to learning. If the Koreans can base their entire admission policy on a test, then we can certainly make an attempt to evaluate the value added learning experience of college via a test.