Families & the Community

Excessive Test Focus Hurts Love of Learning, Official Says

By Sean Cavanagh — April 05, 2011 2 min read
A parent prays for a child’s success in the College Scholastic Ability Test at a Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea, last November. More than 700,000 high school seniors and graduates sit for the high-stakes examinations at 1,100 test centers across the country.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A former top education official in academically high-flying South Korea has warned the United States against copying his nation’s approach, which he says has grown too test-centered and often detracts from students’ love of learning.

Byong Man Ahn, the former minister of education, science, and technology in South Korea, said officials in his country are attempting to scale back the heavy test emphasis and nurture broader student skills, a step some of the United States’ other foreign competitors also have taken.

Mr. Ahn made his remarks here during a keynote address March 25 at the annual meeting of the Association for Education Finance and Policy.

“Although the pain of memorizing is unavoidable for young students to acquire new knowledge, they should also be motivated by the pleasure of creative expression,” Mr. Ahn told the audience. “However, we force the students to memorize so much that they experience pain rather than [the] pleasure [of] acquiring knowledge through the learning process.”

There is a long tradition in South Korea of parents’ pushing their children to excel academically, but that parental determination can be counterproductive, Mr. Ahn told the audience. That pressure contributes to families’ willingness to pay for private tutoring services, or hagwons, he said. (“Out-of-School Classes Provide Edge,” April 22, 2009.)

South Korea is typically one of the highest-scoring nations on international assessments. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have pointed to the Asian nation’s strong performance as evidence of how far U.S. students have to go to compete in the global economy. In this year’s state of the union speech, Mr. Obama also said South Korean teachers “are known as ‘nation builders,’ ” and said, “Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.”

But Mr. Ahn, who now serves as vice chairman of South Korea’s National Advisory Council on Education, Science, and Technology, said he is often “astonished” by the praise heaped on his country’s education system by the rest of the world, given the steady criticism leveled at schools by the nation’s residents.

Seeking Balance

South Korean officials are now taking steps to try to de-emphasize exams, Mr. Ahn said, which include working with universities to retool college-entrance procedures to encourage institutions to judge applicants on having diverse talents.

And throughout the school system, South Korea is seeking to reduce the number of required courses and academic content for students, and give them more choice over their studies, he said. Officials are also trying to reduce families’ dependence on private tutoring by establishing free, online lectures for students that cover material on college-entrance exams.

Near the end of his remarks, Mr. Ahn also cautioned American policymakers and the public against praising the “educational zeal” of South Korean parents. Parental involvement in education is critical to student success, Mr. Ahn said, and policymakers are absolutely right to encourage it. But he called for balance.

“Extreme parental pressure is not something to be envied,” he said. “The Korean case illustrates it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the April 06, 2011 edition of Education Week as Excessive Testing Focus Saps Love of Learning, Korean Ex-Official Says

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community Opinion Chronic Absenteeism Has Exploded. What Can Schools Do?
The key to addressing this issue is rebuilding the relationship between families and schools.
8 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Families & the Community Leader To Learn From Absenteeism Was a Big Problem in This District. A New Strategy Is Getting Results
Sharon Bradley remembers how it felt to miss school for reasons outside her control.
11 min read
Sharon Bradley, director of student, family and community services for Plano ISD, listens to members of the Character, Attendance, and Restorative Education (CARE) team discuss their current projects in Plano, Texas, on Dec. 14, 2023. The CARE department focuses on equipping students and adults with the tools, strategies, and resources that support a safe, engaging, and collaborative learning environment through character education, attendance recovery, and restorative practices.
Sharon Bradley, the director of student, family, and community services for the Plano, Texas, school district listens to staff members on a special team that focuses on helping students and their families address a range of challenges that may get in the way of regular attendance and engagement at school.
Shelby Tauber for Education Week
Families & the Community Leader To Learn From A Former Teacher Turns Classroom Prowess Into Partnerships With Families
Ana Pasarella maximizes her community's assets to put students first.
8 min read
Ana Pasarella, the director of family and community engagement for Alvin ISD, oversees an activity as Micaela Leon, 3, a student in Alvin ISD’s READy Program, draws on a piece of paper on Alvin ISD’s STEM bus in Manvel, Texas, on Dec. 8, 2023.
Ana Pasarella, the director of family and community engagement for the Alvin Independent school district in Texas, oversees an activity as Micaela Leon, 3, a student in the district's READy Program, draws on a piece of paper inside the district's STEM bus in Manvel, Texas.
Callaghan O’Hare for Education Week
Families & the Community Parents Trust School Librarians to Select Books, But There's a Catch
A new survey shows what parents think of school libraries and librarians following efforts throughout the country to remove books.
5 min read
Books sit in a cart and on shelves in an elementary school library in suburban Atlanta on Aug. 18, 2023.
Books sit in a cart and on shelves in an elementary school library in suburban Atlanta on Aug. 18, 2023.
Hakim Wright Sr./AP