… Korea! In Singapore, we take the Cambridge GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ level examinations before heading off to a university of our choice; with an alternative route via polytechnics. However, students in Korea are not so lucky. They have only 1 major exam that determines their fate. For the REST OF THEIR LIVES!

Yes, the Koreans take what we call the College Scholastic Aptitude Test, pretty much like the SAT that Singapore were forced to take a few years ago. Only the top 1% of the cohort gets to go to big-named universities like the Seoul National University, Korea University and Yon Sei University, while the rest goes to lesser known ones. After graduation, pretty much of their working fate lies in the universities they come from, which explains why there are a lot of graduates on the streets without jobs.

In Singapore, getting into any of the major universities like NUS, NTU or SMU almost guarantees a job – well, not always, especially if you are in the life sciences. This is because jobs that are related to life sciences are generally research oriented, which usually requires a postgraduate if not a post doctoral. In many cases, life science graduates end up switching to jobs that are either non-related or accept jobs that are deemed not to have future prospects – to quote Mr Philip Yeo, “test tube washers”. To be technically correct, there are no such jobs because we do not reuse our test tubes anymore.

Singapore has been talking about getting a 4th university (no, SIM University is not considered the 4th, and no, I’m not being elitist – that’s what the¬†government thinks since it, in a sense, denounced SIM University’s status) but somehow, there is a fear that degrees offered by this new university may deemed to be watered down. There’s also talk of having polytechnics offer degree programmes, which may seem to be a good alternative with its own set of consequences.

Students in Singapore already have other alternatives, which includes taking up part-time or full-time degree programmes offered by overseas universities. Usually, these students have an option to complete their undergraduate education at the university offering the programme. Not only does this provide them bona fide experience at the university itself, but it also gives them an exposure that most local undergraduates do not usually get – unless they apply for special programmes such as the Global Immersion Programme that is offered by NTU. NUS and SMU have similar programmes that allows and encourages their students to spend a term or two at a collaborative college of their choice – but this sometimes runs the risk of the students transferring their credits to the overseas college for good.

To date, the financial industry had been quite an attractive option for most graduates. Running a 4th university at such a time may end up being either heavily skewed on the financial courses, or having too little intake on other courses, such as engineering, which had seen a fall in demand in recent years. One thing’s for sure – we definitely do not want to see another case of UNSW Asia, which withdrew from the Singapore scene just barely months after it’s first intake. This is really a sad case.

SEOUL – SOUTH Korean mothers knelt in prayer, the stock market opened late and the military grounded flights to help teenagers taking a college entrance exam on Thursday that could shape the course of their lives.

Some 585,000 students took the state-sponsored College Scholastic Aptitude Test.

The exam determines the university they will attend, but getting into an elite college often means being at the top of the list for the best jobs after graduation and being considered one of the most eligible people to marry.

Education-obsessed South Korean parents spend huge sums of money on the best tutors, cram schools, private schools and even nutritionists who will fashion a diet suited for studying to give their child an advantage.

Most teenagers preparing for the test usually spend about 14 to 16 hours a day in studies.

Mothers by the tens of thousands prayed for good results at Buddhist temples known for having links to education as well as at Christian churches.

‘I heard this (Buddha) statue grants you one wish so I’m bowing before it 1,000 times while my child takes the test today,’ Yoon Myung Jo told YTN television.

Companies & markets help out
Many companies and financial markets in Asia’s fourth largest economy opened about an hour later than usual to keep cars off the road so test-takers would not get caught in morning traffic.

The Defence Ministry grounded military flights during test time to cut down on noise so students could better concentrate.

Police patrol cars, motorcycles and fire trucks were on standby to transport possibly tardy students.

Once students arrived at the test site, many had to undergo searches with metal detectors to make sure they were not carrying mobile phones and other gadgets, which are banned now but have been used by many test-takers in the past to cheat.

For many in South Korea, test day is symbolic of an education system that has gotten out of control.

Social commentators say the reason South Korea has the lowest birth rate in the developed world is because of the high cost and high pressure of the education system. — REUTERS

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 16th November 2007

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