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An Open Letter to the KAIST Admin
[ Issue 152 Page 10 ] Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 22:30:30 Yehhyun Jo Head of Society yehhyunjo18@kaist.ac.kr

To whom it may concern,

I am uncertain as to whether or not anyone will read this letter upon publication, and I am more uncertain if it will have any effect on the administration. Nonetheless, based on my limited knowledge of the current plans for KAIST’s future, I am humbly submitting this letter via the newspaper while also fulfilling my job as a Herald reporter this month. On the whole, my proposal is relatively simple: to enact a pass/no record grading system for all undergraduate freshmen basic required courses at KAIST, as well as all additional courses taken by freshmen. The pass/no record system is an upgraded version of the traditional pass/fail system due to the fact that failure to pass a course does not result in a permanent “F” on the transcript. A student simply needs to try again until he or she passes the course without a mark of failure. This may sound radical to some, yet familiar to others. It is certainly not a rare policy in places like the US, where such a system has been in action for over 50 years. In recent years, many prestigious institutions in the US, such as Yale University, have increasingly moved toward some variant of a pass/no record grading system in their undergraduate schools. Along with Yale, Stanford, MIT, and Harvard have implemented this system for a while now and it has been wildly popular and successful. Many blog posts on the MIT admissions webpage as well as op-ed pieces in The Harvard Crimson praise the positive effects of this grading policy.

One of the greatest advantages of utilizing this system is that freshmen will be given the freedom to exercise their curious minds into taking a wider range of courses without the fear of academic retaliation. They will be able to venture into territories that have little to do with their intended majors — which may help them choose their career paths, discover their true passions, and meet new people across the academic disciplines. This could especially hold true for a lot of humanities courses taught at KAIST, where the current objective of most students is not to choose classes based on personal interest, but rather on difficulty and grading.

A common point of contention at KAIST is that a majority of the undergraduate students are from science-centered high-schools, where most of the material covered in the freshmen basic required courses are pre-taught before university. This makes the grade gap between the majority and the minority in this case very clear and hard to bridge, further adding to all the stress involved with adapting in a new school. I believe that a pass/no record system could at least be part of the solution. It will give the incoming freshmen a chance to study and “catch up” with materials they may be unfamiliar with for the sake of learning and preparing for the future, and not out of fear of failure to earn an A. Additionally, without some of the academic burden in the beginning of the school, freshmen students may experience more extracurricular activities, student clubs, and the enjoyment of college life in general. And of course, those who simply prefer the peace and silence of studying will be able to continue to do that.

The removal of this burden on freshmen could also allow them to rely on each other for help and study together in groups, which is not a common sight to witness in the majority of Korean universities due to the competitive atmosphere stemming from the relative grading system. This will create a platform in the early years of college that promotes social cohesion, leading to a stronger community that could progress into group support and stress-aid in the future, creating a mentally healthier campus.

I have always seen KAIST to be at the vanguard of progressive universities in Korea. From the special provision that exempts the admissions process to include the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT, or Suneung) to the lenient academic probation policies, KAIST has, in my mind, continuously attempted to move away from the traditional result-oriented educational structure in Korea. Abandoning the letter-grade system for freshmen may be the next step to achieving an academically-charged environment focused on the advancement of knowledge, not letters on a transcript.



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