What do you think when you see ‘5!’? If you think of the number 5 and exclamation mark (!), you are a liberal arts major. And if you think of the formula 5*4*3*2*1, you are a natural sciences major. We can easily find this kind of post comparing differences between liberal arts and natural sciences. Among the OECD countries, only Korea and Japan have a system that separates students into two parts. Now our life span has reached almost 100. However, the time we have to decide our future life is not the half of 100, not the half of 50. It’s 17. We have to decide whether we are a person of liberal arts or natural sciences at the age of 17. Is it reasonable in this 21st century that regards a person who has diverse knowledge as a talented person?
No Where Ready to Make a Hybrid Talent
In Korea, the education system separates students into three parts; liberal arts, natural sciences, and fine arts. And most of students should choose between liberal arts and natural sciences. They have a choice to decide before they know what they want to be in future, and they have to decide then. If they apply another part to their major in university, they are disadvantaged. This kind of education system has started from the Japanese colonial period and it is continued until now. But Japan is trying to make a change to this system. Kanazawa University made a major combining engineering and art.1 There was also some move to change that system in Korea. They tried to combine liberal arts and natural sciences by making a Division of Interdisciplinary Studies.* At first, the cause of this division was convergence education and building a global talent. However from Chung-ang University in 2010 and Sungkyunkwan University in 2012 to Yonsei University and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in 2013, major universities decided to abolish the Division of Interdisciplinary Studies. There might be diverse reasons, however it shows that universities are still not ready to educate complexly. When the nation’s curriculum is changing, they always talk about combining liberal arts and natural sciences, but nothing has changed. Also when we see the case of Sookmyung Women’s University, we have classes we should take called ‘Required Electives.’ In this course, there are seven fields, including two classes about English, three classes about speaking and writing, and two classes about leadership and career development. Those are required to graduate, but we cannot find a field that shows combining the two parts. We also have Core Electives which we can choose among seven areas. And in the required electives area 3, there are subjects in the part of natural sciences, like Brief Survey of Calculus and Fundamentals of Computer Science. Any students can take that area, but in reality students from another part have a difficulty at studying. Choi Eunbyeol, School of Communication & Media ‘12, said, “I took a class of Brief Survey of Calculus because I felt the necessity to study math. I could keep up with class before the mid-term exam, but it became harder and harder after the mid-term exam. And because most of students were majoring in the College of Science, I felt I got a little bit left behind. So finally, I just gave up that class.” This also shows our school is not ready to change.
Korea Education, Black and White Way of Thinking
We all know that the black and white way of thinking is dangerous. And everything should be considered diversely. However the field of education has yet recognized that.
First, it is too early. Most of the students choose a major that is related with the part they studied in high school, and most of them are getting a job that is related with their major. When we see this cycle, it means that we will decide our future at the age of 17. The aim of dividing into two parts is to let students to study what they are good at. However, the premise of this is that they decided what they wanted to be during middle school. In reality, it is almost impossible. Kim Minju, 16 years old, said, “Actually most of my friends do not know which subject they prefer. It always changes depending on exam scores.” Like her, most of middle school students are too young to choose their path. Just when the score of math is higher than the score of Korean, they think they are good at math. Also, when the score of Korean is higher than the score of math, they think they are good at Korean. Can they choose the path between liberal arts and natural sciences? And what if you are good at Korean and Math? Also what if you like history and handling machines? This also makes another problem. Even if they knew what they are good at, another problem can emerge. Second, it is a huge obstacle to be a talented person which society wants. In this century, just majoring in one part cannot be regarded as a talented person. We should be a professional in diverse fields. However it is hard to find a scientist reading philosophy books or an artist studying geometry in Korea. When you think of Steve Jobs, you can easily think he majored in computers or technology. Surprisingly, he majored in the Department of Philosophy and Physics.2 But in Korea, after they select between liberal arts and natural sciences, they do not have a chance to study subjects of other parts. So if you chose liberal arts, there are no more chances to study subjects about science. It can be efficient in Korean Education. Because students should take Korean-SAT, it is better just to study subjects what they are going to test. However, school is not only the place preparing for the Korean-SAT. Lee Minjeong, Division of Law ’12, said, “Separating into two parts does not fit the fundamental purpose of school. We go to school to be a person well equipped with diverse knowledge. However, we should choose whether liberal arts or natural sciences before we study diversely. And most of students feel hard when they have to deal with problems about other fields.” As she said, students studying liberal arts do not know about science and students studying natural sciences do not know about society. It is quite an old-fashioned idea which does not fit the 21st century.
When We Look Globally
Then how about other countries? As mentioned before, there are no OECD countries separating into two parts in education except Korea and Japan. In the case of the Netherlands, they also educate separately, but quite differently from Korea. They separate into four parts : Culture and Society, Economics and Society, Nature and Health, and Nature and Technology.3 They have a test which is conducted by the Ministry of Education. With the result of this test and counseling with professional teachers, they chose which part best fits them. And in the case of Germany, they also have an entrance test called ‘Abitur.’ In this test, German and Math are the only required subjects, and in the part of Social Sciences, Natural Science and Elective Subjects.4 They should choose one subject from each part, so students can take not only liberal sciences but also natural sciences.
Hybridization in Education
From 2012, Seoul National University started to let students apply to majors from other parts. And next year, the number of students will be enlarged and all of them are going to reap benefits of entering the dormitory.5 This system is not a novel idea. Most universities have already started. Ko, Kyunghee University ’12, said, “I studied in a Foreign Language High School, so I didn’t have a chance to study about natural science, but I chose my major in the Department of Food and Nutrition because of my Korean-SAT score. Because I didn’t have knowledge about science, I had to study more than other students. It was quite stressful.” However, Son Serim, Department of Statistics ’13, said, “I never thought I would major in statistics before, so I was under a lot of stress and a little bit angry about my situation because I didn’t know why I had to study this. However, when I studied with a friend who was a student of natural sciences in high school, I could figure out problems which were hard for me, and I felt really great about studying what I never did before.” As they showed quite different responses to this system, choosing major freely can bring both positive and negative response. However this can be a start line to make a scientist reading philosophy books and an artist studying geometry in Korea. A Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Andrew Hamilton, said, “Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences are closely connected. For example, Medical Science deals with life and death. That study cannot separate with Philosophy and Ethics which study about life and death profoundly.”6 Like he said, hybridization in study should be done.
1 Yoon Saemina, “Going to the Countries of Convergence Education : Japan & U.S.A,” Seoul News, December 25, 2012
* A student in this division can choose his or her major after taking classes of diverse majors during the freshman year, and some call this division as ‘Free Major.’
2 Yoo Byungreul, “Jobs Studied Both Liberal Arts and Natural Science, and How about Korea?,” Money Today, June 13, 2012
3 Jung Hyunsuk, “[Netherlands] Choosing at The Age of 14 and 5,” Hankuk Education News, April 25, 2013
4 Kwon Daebong, “For the Future, More Freedom is Needed,” Munhwa Ilbo, February 20, 2013
5 “Park Youngjune, Seoul National University will Enlarge…,” Segye Ilbo, February 27, 2013
6 “Lee Seungyoung, Jeon Soojin, Hybridization of Study is Not Choice but Mandatory,” Joongang Sunday, April 7, 2013