Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Place of Competiveness in our School System

The  premier Korean National Government Science and Technology School has been in the news lately. Since the beginning of the year, there have been five suicides at the school: four students and one teacher.

The Desk Column in the Catholic Times reports that some blame the way the school is run for the suicides, including a grading system that can determine tuition costs, and other policies that put the students under a great deal of stress.

The journalist feels that the competition engendered at the school is the primary cause. It is the way we have made our society, she says, and not surprisingly it tends to  appear in our schools of higher education as well, leaving students with few other options but to compete among themselves. But this competitive atmosphere is not conducive to learning.  Our colleges, long touted as temples of learning, have been invaded by the same competitive spirit that has infected our society, becoming  places for getting employment at the expense of learning.

The students, the teachers, and the governing bodies of universities are all primed to compete, and the stress affects each of them at their very core: Professors are pressured to excel and to do research in addition to teaching, leading to time-management problems that disrupt the relationship of trust between teachers and students. Obligations to make  financial capabilities public, ratings by the government, and decreasing student enrollment--all make for a competitive workplace. 

Consequently, in many cases, the students take subjects with little relationship to their major but simply to get good grades.  Professors also become interested in increasing their capabilities and the temples of learning are no longer what they were meant to be.

The rector of the school  felt it necessary to breed this competitiveness to attract the best students, and then educate them to contribute at a high level for the future benefit of the country. This is the present thinking of the government: competitiveness and efficiency. Not all think in this mode for we have those who feel we should not only be moved by financial reward but also by our own dignity as persons. Many teachers at the school are skeptical of the direction the rector has taken the school over the years to revolutionize the school.   

And now the public has weighed in after the recent suicides with questions concerning how we run our educational system; the tendency now is to take another look at the schools to see what improvements can be made. Our writer concludes with a desire that the Catholic school system also be given another look to see if it also has taken on the competitive mode of our society, keeping in mind what it means to be faithful to the Catholic vision of education.