Education without doubt plays a key role in shaping a person’s mindset, intellect, and views. For many, the twenty or more years invested in education is what equip them with the necessary abilities for personal development and social interactions. However, whether those accomplishments truly become their own assets depends on the environment and way of learning to which they are exposed.
Relative to those of other countries, Korea’s educational system is notorious for the extreme competition students experience in order to reach but one and ultimate goal: entrance to a highly ranked university. In the controlled and strict learning environment of the Korean system, the most important skills required from a student are memorization and rapid, accurate problem-solving skills. A student is assessed on how many questions in a test he can answer correctly, which would be his rank. Even a single mistake is intolerable to those aiming for “SKY”, the top three universities of Korea. As a result, students become sculpted into problem-solving machines, stripped of any imagination and originality they may have previously possessed.
On the other hand, education in international schools is essentially of a polar opposite style to that of Korean schools. For example, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program adopted by thousands of international schools around the globe promotes creativity, inquisition, and open discussion. Cooperation, rather than competition, is encouraged, so the sharing of ideas is a very common and normal part of many subjects. In this system, the validity, logic, and coherence of a student’s answer are evaluated, instead of whether it is simply right or wrong. Critical thinking, not receptive thinking, and thus analysis, not simple acquisition of information, is what constitutes the basis of a student’s learning in international programs.
This does not mean that the IB style is flawless. Subjectivity and the ambiguity of criteria can be major issues in the evaluation of students’ works in language or humanities subjects. The extensive use of electronic devices and the Internet may be more distracting than educational. Nevertheless, students should be allowed to express their own opinions and ideas as part of their answers and conclusions, instead of being forced to limit their minds to fit one of the five given answer choices. A classroom in which no student’s voice is heard cannot indicate a productive form of learning.
Therefore, it is clear that the IB way of learning makes it substantially easier for a student to become a more active and inquiring learner. Developing a concise thesis, designing and constructing one’s own experiment, learning the importance of plagiarism, and logically delivering one’s perspective are all qualities that would be virtually unobtainable from Korean education. Skills learned from various mistakes, experiences, and teamwork offer a much more valuable and permanent contribution to one’s personal development than textbook content from short-term memorization. Moreover, the point is not to determine which system is superior to the other; it is to compare what kind of learners each system produces and the longevity of the capabilities each raises in them.
Perhaps it is time for Korea to change its educational style to one that is more beneficial and practical to students and their potential careers as professors, lawyers, researchers, physicians, or any other. Education is what should guide students in developing critical thinking and analytical skills, hence more realistically preparing them for their futures. One must actively ponder, experiment, and seek out answers and solutions by oneself for true mastery of any knowledge. The world is not a set of problems with a short list of answers to choose from.