Sunday, April 10, 2011

Education News

1) All the major papers are covering events at KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute for Sciece and Technology), where four college students have committed suicide since the beginning of the year.  This seems extraordinary, but according to the DongA's take on the tragedy:
... a combined 16 students have committed suicide, with four taking their lives in 2003 and this year each. Given the student body of 10,000, this translates into 1.4 to 1.5 suicides per 10,000 students per year.
This figure is no different from the national average suicide rate for undergraduate and graduate students. Of 2.1 million undergraduate and graduate students nationwide, 230 to 340 kill themselves every year.
Still, the recent flurry of deaths have prompted concern.  Some critics place the blame on president Suh Nam-pyo, a former MIT prof. who took over the reins in 2006.  The Korea Herald chronicles:
Suh revised the tenure system which used to guarantee the faculty members’ right to stay permanently at the school. He then ordered all lectures at the school to be delivered in English.

In 2007, Suh adopted a unique tuition system, which is believed to have driven many students to the verge of breakdown.
The state-funded elite school, which was established in 1971 to nurture talented scientists and engineers, had not originally received any tuition from students.
However, under the new tuition system, students are required to pay different levels of fees up to 6 million won ($5,538) a year when their grade point averages are less than 3.0 out of 4.3.
Of the total 7,805 students enrolled last year, 1,600 students, or 12.9 percent, paid an average of 2.45 million won. And the figure has been on the rise recently, with 4.9 percent in 2008 and 8 percent in 2009.
 According to reports, this problem did not affect the students who died, but Suh is nonetheless walking back the policy.  It seems to me a pretty poor policy to begin with, adding huge pressures to students, espcially from poorer families; it was also an effective design to empower unethical professors to bestow grades in return for, ah, favors.

2) Speaking of bestowing grades, a JoongAng Daily article titled 'Teachers are under fire for revising report cards' reports on homeroom teachers at 23 high schools in Seoul for revising previous teachers' comments on report cards without permission, to enhance sthe students' chances for admission to colleges. 
According to the office, the teachers revised the cards because so many parents and students pressured them to do so, saying any negative comments would hinder the students from gaining admission.
“It is true that teachers feel burdened when parents and students beg them to change the comments on the cards,” a teacher in Seoul said. “If we don’t do it, they would blame us, saying we are leading students to fail to enter university.” [...]
Among the revised comments on the cards, 41 percent of them were about career counseling for students, and 32 percent were about reading habits of students. The rest of them were about student club activities or volunteering.
Teachers who committed the unauthorized revisions of report cards will be given warnings or reprimands.
3) Finally this week, both the Times and the Herald cover a report from Korea Educational Development Institute stating the number of high school students choosing to study a second foreign language (after English) fell sharply last year, after authorities decided it was no longer necessary:
The number of second foreign language classes at high schools nationwide also fell 11.2 percent to 18,554, the data found.
The dive in popularity for a second foreign language has come after the government adjusted high school curricula in 2009 to put more emphasis on the study of English, Korean language and math. Learning a second foreign language was compulsory until 2009.
By language, the number of students who chose German as a second foreign language marked the steepest 26.9 percent fall from 29,881 to 21,841, according to the data.
Students of Spanish also fell 25.4 percent, followed by French (18.6 percent), Japanese (17.5 percent), Chinese (13.3 percent) and Russian (5.6 percent), they said.

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