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Grant Educational Freedom to Responsible Students
[ Issue 133 Page 11 ] Wednesday, June 03, 2015, 18:20:32 Jiwon Lee Staff Reporter jiwonlee@kaist.ac.kr

The course waiver exam exists for a reason – to enable students to forgo sitting through lectures on material they have already learned. A significant number of class hours is involved in receiving credit for a course; however, if students are already familiar with the course material, these classes can be a very repetitious and tedious ordeal. Thus, if students demonstrate that they are already familiar with the topics covered in a particular course through the course waiver exam, they are rightfully exempt from taking the course and granted a grade based on their exam results. Despite the merits of the course waiver exam, there are some professors who do not make one available for the courses they teach. They believe that only students who have invested in the allotted number of class hours for a course should receive credit for it, whether they have sufficient knowledge of the material or not. This manner of thinking only serves as a detriment to all parties involved. Whether for general subjects or major subjects, the idea that students should not be able to receive credits for a subject they have already mastered is completely ludicrous.

Students at KAIST have diverse backgrounds, have different educational goals, and are different in their approach to their studies. Thus, it is unreasonable to adopt a “one-curriculum-fits-all” approach. Some students have studied some college-level subjects while still in high school, prior to entering KAIST. Some may have simply studied on their own due to personal interest, or because they want to be exempt from taking some mandatory courses during a particularly busy semester. Denying these students the right to take the course waiver exam and forcing them to attend lectures equivalent to rarified review classes for the sake of formality simply encourage bureaucracy to flourish, and withhold from students the educational freedom to which they should be entitled. Instead of listening to professors drone on about subjects they already know of, students could spend that time learning new material in a more advanced class or working on a research project that is more important to them.

Neither do professors have anything to gain from preventing students from taking the course waiver exam. Students who are compelled to attend classes they deem unimportant tend to be uninterested in what the professor has to say, sometimes even sleeping or doing work unrelated to the class. Such students contribute in creating a negative classroom environment for other students. Addressing a classroom full of such students is no different from addressing an empty one, and thus adversely affects the professor’s enthusiasm for teaching. Additionally, as classes are often assessed on a relative grading scale, students who already have a good grasp of the topics being taught have an advantage over their peers from the start. Even if these students put in minimal effort in their coursework, they are likely outperform others in exams. This could then lead to dissatisfaction among students who receive poor grades despite allocating a significant amount of time and effort to the course.

It is often stated that students are responsible for their own education. However, it is hypocritical to make this claim and then deny students the right to take this responsibility. Though the university and its departments should provide a framework to help students develop expertise in a specific field by listing some mandatory general subjects and major subjects, there should still be a fair amount of flexibility to enable students to make responsible decisions that reflect their educational goals. Adopting a supercilious attitude towards students, treating them as if they do not know what is in their best interests, or forcing them to follow established rules and regulations for the sake of instilling discipline only serves to stunt the students’ intellectual and emotional development and undermine their ability to make autonomous decisions. More trust should be vested in students to take the reins in their own education. The university and its faculty members should strive to empower students by enabling them to independently design a curriculum catered to their needs. Allowing students to take course waiver exams is one way to help accomplish this goal.

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