One of the biggest social issues in Korea today, is whether or not we should apply an absolute evaluation to the Korean SAT. Testing for the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), otherwise known as the Korean SAT, is considered one of the most significant national events that has taken place every year since its inception in 1994. This is because the exam is one of the most important criteria for assessment of students applying for university. However, since it has been based on a relative evaluation system for a long time, Korean students have had to compete with every other Korean student, despite achieving high scores. This policy has come under fire by some and as a result, the CSAT will now be partially based on absolute evaluation system, at least in the subjects of history and English. However, the Korean Ministry of Education is trying to move towards using an absolute scale for the entire test, which has resulted in a lot of controversy in Korea. It clearly seems that, despite Korea having the highest rate of teenage suicide as a result of academic stress among OECD countries, for the last 15 years or more, many Koreans still think that a highly competitive grading system is good for our society. However, it is very clear that inequality and an immoderate competition continues to exist in Korean education, and grading based on definite scales can be a fundamental way to resolve these problems.
First of all, converting the current evaluation system of the CSAT could be the best way to neutralize the current admission system to university. Many educational specialists pointed out that the CSAT score is a major issue for high school students under the current admission system; and one of the biggest factors that incites a lot of problems for our nation’s youth. For instance, if there are two students with only 1~3 point score gap, one can earn an A while the other can get B on the CSAT, without any significant difference in their level of intelligence. In order to rectify this situation, many teenage students are indirectly forced to go to private academies to train for greater accuracy on the CSAT, which is a very expensive way to solve a specific problem and does not represent real knowledge.
This also brings about another problem, that of inequality. Since private academies are expensive, it pits the poor students against the rich. According to the Gyeonggido Office of Education, there is a very big gap in the scores of poor children versus rich. More specifically, students from families that earn more than 5 million won per month earn 43 points more on average in three major subjects, as compared to those from families that makes less than 2 million won per month. This makes it even clearer that the current evaluation system of the CSAT is unfair, because even that 1~3 point difference can have a significant impact on one’s acceptance to a university.
However, there are some objectors to the change in policy, who argue that an absolute evaluation system will bring only chaos, due to the less effective function of assessment. They strongly insist that the test is supposed to encourage students to achieve the best results by studying the hardest. Nevertheless the Korean SAT does not simply evaluate students by high and low score. As ones can clearly see, the Korean educational environment also invites commercialized competition between students, resulting in the inequality of education based on income level. Moreover, even though an absolute evaluation of the CSAT is not a perfect way to evaluate students, it still can eradicate the deep-rooted inequality we see in the current Korean education system.
A lot of Korean middle school or high school students are very likely to experience negative educational circumstances, because of the current policy. Even if you are a very active student in school, you could easily see teachers are only focusing on teaching for the CSAT, without caring for those that cannot access advantageous factors like private tutoring. However, it is time to see the burden of assessment loaded onto the system, instead of the students.
Even though the plan to restructure the evaluation of the CSAT has been suspended for a year, this issue makes us reconsider our educational environment in one way. We need to ask ourselves what is the main purpose of education in society? The answer should be to promote equality. Everyone should have equal opportunity in the education system and an absolute evaluation of the CSAT can be a key way to achieving it.