IB (International Baccalaureate) is “a program that focuses on teaching students to think critically and independently, and how to inquire with care and logic” and more than 4,000 schools have chosen to teach International Baccalaureate programs worldwide. As an English-based curriculum with a direct focus on making students better learners and people, IB is soon to be implemented in many South Korean schools in the next five years. But one inquiry pops into our mind: will the IB program be beneficial to South Korean schools?
Since the past few decades, the Korean Education System has been criticized for its lack of focus on actually striving to educate the students. With its purpose of studying focused solely on standardized testing and going to prestigious universities, students in Korea study only the information that will help them get excellent grades. Along with the pressure to memorize certain information in a short period of time, it is eventually inevitable for them to forget everything they memorized afterward. As they have solely memorized information starting from elementary to high school, they never practiced critical thinking and analyzation.
“Asking bizarre questions and thinking deeply about a subject takes time, and in that time, other kids are going to study and become better than you.” comments an anonymous 18-year-old Korean student. Take into consideration the study conducted by Seoul National University Professor Lee Hye-Jung, titled “Who gets the best grades at top universities?”. In this experiment, in-depth interviews were conducted with the 45 highest achieving students at Seoul National University, a highly-regarded Korean University.
In average, the results showed that these students share the following self-regulation strategies: 1. Handwrite everything that the teacher says in class; 2. Have a receptive attitude rather than a critical attitude. With the exception of the students who have high grades, Seoul National University also consists of critical and creative individuals; however, they all have low grades. No matter how ingenious one’s ideas may be, he/she has to abandon them if they differ from the professor’s. These findings show that the Korean education has been taking the wrong path for a prolonged time.
In contrast to the note memorization and cramming norm of South Korean education, the IB curriculum is composed of interactive hands-on work with what you are taught. Instead of taking tests in a multiple-choice form and short answers, IB students have to manage their own experiments, engage in Socratic Seminars, and write evaluative essays. With the exception of compulsory and secondary subjects, they also have to engage in TOK (Theory of Knowledge): a course similar to epistemology, requiring the students to reflect on the nature of knowledge and how we know what we claim to know.
Though this contemporary education curriculum may seem like a potential solution for Korea’s unscrupulous education system, teachers and parents have not been happy about it. A majority of teachers acknowledged the disadvantages the Korea IB students will be in when applying to college. This is because their GPAs will be significantly lower due to the fact that universities in Korea will still heavily weigh students’ grades and IB students’ GPAs will not be compatible in the numbers game.
In comparison with the parents’ perspectives, the parents also had similar views towards the implementation of IB in Korean schools. “When I asked my kid’s school about the IB curriculum, they had no idea what it even was. Cram schools (tutoring academies) actually told me what’s good for my kid’s education, like reading books and the newspaper. If schools aren’t going to budge even when our government is trying to change the education system, the only place an anxious parent can rely on seems to be cram schools,” replies Kim Ji-Youn, a 42-year-old mother.
To some extent, the IB curriculum can be seen as more rigorous than what Korean students in public schools are encountering right now. Their courses are as difficult as university-level courses, and the assignments assigned for each subject is highly demanding. Imagine IB, a highly western curriculum, to be utilized in South Korean schools. Not only will people dissent with the system, but also teenage suicide rates will increase as students are faced with an education system they have never experienced before.
Jessica Kim, Grade 11
Chadwick International School