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Korean STEM education experiencing some setbacks
« on: December 02, 2013, 05:02:37 am »
http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/Article.aspx?aid=2980903

My hagwon director likes to consistently remind me that on numerous occasions that Korean education has been cited by news outlets and President Obama himself as an exemplar of what is done right in education. I merely raise my eyebrows and reply that every system has its problems.

I found it troubling that the article points out that the mindless, cut and paste style of learning which pervades so many lackluster education systems, is taking over STEM in Korea. That won`t bode well for a nation which claims to want a creative economy, most certainly not in fields where there is a premium on innovative thinking.


  • waygo0k
  • The Legend

    • 3929

    • September 27, 2011, 11:51:01 am
    • Chungnam
Re: Korean STEM education experiencing some setbacks
« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2013, 06:29:20 am »
Memorizing and regurgitating is useful in STEM subjects. These subjects are all about patterns (at least up to 2nd year university). Once you realize the patterns and follow them, you will be okay. The longer you study a STEM subject at university, the less visible the patterns become, all that black and white suddenly begins to turn grey, and you have to be able to see and explain the circumstances causing this effect. This is  where love for the subject comes in.

Unfortunately, many children in Korea lose the love of learning well before they finish middle school. The fact that they are not taught how to interpret data independently, and they are not taught to question what they are learning means many struggle to see the sciences for what they really are.

Korea has a strong STEM background, I mean you can't go around designing manufacturing cars, ships, televisions, phones, home appliances etc without that. The problem is that you can only go so far relying on just mindlessly memorizing the subjects and concepts behind them. The best STEM students will never study in Korea beyond UG level, which is why a huge majority of them go abroad to further their studies. They know the HE system in the country is a sham at best, and a complete clusterf**k at worst.

I remember having a lot of Korean journals when I was gathering journal articles to research for my Masters thesis (I was surprised at the amount myself). My supervisor warned me at the time not to include too many Korean references as the contributors have to pay to have their articles published in Korean journals, not much integrity in the academic world. If I had included all those references, my thesis would have been MARKED DOWN.

As for the number of kids choosing humanities over the sciences, there's no surprise there, its the same pattern in the west. My major (Chemistry) has had one of the lowest student enrollment rates in the UK for years. In my first year at uni there were 70 students in my course, second year 35, 3rd year 15, Masters year 7. Just take a look at the percentage of STEM graduates in the E-2 population in Korea, or even the entire foreigner population. I bet our percentage will be in the single digits.


Re: Korean STEM education experiencing some setbacks
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2013, 08:00:00 am »
Two things about why STEM majors are less prevalent now:  first, it's not as useful for finding a job.  My school's chem majors got a lot of theory, not much practical lab work until their final year.  So, many of them failed out before they learned any useful skills or switched majors to something with a lot more practical applications at early stages. 

Second, if it costs $40,000 to get a degree, and it's useless without graduating, then most students are going to choose a major that they are confident they can graduate from.  It's a $40,000 bet that a 17 year old makes, so they play it as safe as they can and declare a major like business or psych, one that they have a good chance of graduating. 


  • waygo0k
  • The Legend

    • 3929

    • September 27, 2011, 11:51:01 am
    • Chungnam
Re: Korean STEM education experiencing some setbacks
« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2013, 08:55:50 am »
No offence but your school sounds awful (if it is true the chem students had no lab experience until the final year).

From my university and the other ones I know of in the UK, the science students were saddled with lab work from day 1. In fact, we did around a dozen experiments in my second year if I recall properly, with the time-frame for each experiment ranging from a few days to 3-4 weeks, we would often go straight from the lecture theatre to labs and vice-versa.

The only let-down was that we were not allowed to use the big machines until our third year (NMR spectrometers, X-Ray diffraction, HPLC etc) due to how much each machine costs (hundreds of thousands of pounds to a few million), which makes sense....why would you trust a 20 year old 2nd year with a high-powered magnet super-cooled by liquid nitrogen that costs thousands of pounds a year just to maintain.

We were however free to use the smaller, cheaper machines (UV, IR0 and the older ones (Mass spec)...which cost around 15-50 thousand pounds from the get-go.

As for job prospects for STEM graduates, there are 2 factors:

The field (especially in the natural sciences) is now extremely automated. Experiments are conducted by machines, data is calculated, collected and interpreted by machines, meaning any john doe with a BSc can just push a few buttons and sit back....and the pay for those jobs is extremely low. The truly challenging/satisfying jobs (theoretical, planning, management etc) require an MSc at the very least, with most requiring PhDs and post-doctoral qualifications. Not many people are willing to put in the time/commitment/effort to complete these.

The second factor (at least in the UK) is that many of the major corporations are shutting their R&D centers and factories and shipping them abroad, mainly to countries where labour is cheaper and tax rules are more lax. The expat life isn't for everybody, so science graduates are often left with the few jobs that pay little.

The number of STEM jobs in the world has not decreased. I would guesstimate the job availability has been quite steady over the decades. The only problem is that these jobs do not stay in the same place/country/region/continent.....they are constantly moving around.....if you want to stay employed, you'll have to move with the job availability.
« Last Edit: December 02, 2013, 10:46:36 am by waygo0k »


Re: Korean STEM education experiencing some setbacks
« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2013, 10:33:28 am »
STEM degrees have long been deemed more marketable than most humanities degrees, but on the basis of your posts it appears that similar to most other majors, a graduate education is the only way to markedly capitalize on one's STEM education. 

Also, with reference to the poster who made the comment about citing Korean journals, your comment brought this story to mind. 

http://retractionwatch.com/2012/08/24/korean-plant-compound-researcher-faked-email-addresses-so-he-could-review-his-own-studies/

I'd originally heard about the story on NPR's On the Media. 



Re: Korean STEM education experiencing some setbacks
« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2013, 11:50:28 am »
"Not much practical lab work until their final year."  Key words:  not much & practical. 

Let me explain this in another way.  The skills gap between STEM student and STEM professional is wider than other majors/professions.  The new grads need more training as employees than graduates from more "common" majors like education or accounting. 

This is something that other majors address through internships, but I don't know about that for STEM majors.  I can say that some companies are very cautious about interns that are not grad students.  Why have an untrained young person in the lab where a mistake can represent a huge liability? 



  • waygo0k
  • The Legend

    • 3929

    • September 27, 2011, 11:51:01 am
    • Chungnam
Re: Korean STEM education experiencing some setbacks
« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2013, 01:05:15 pm »
My mistake...I missed the 'practical' part.  :P

It's the nature of the field itself. Although there are somewhat standardized widely accepted methods of collecting/interpreting data, the machines used and their method(s) of operation are anything but.

There were tons of internships that undergrads and graduates alike used as 'training' before the crash (I know for a fact there were more positions than applicants in 2006 and 2007)....but with the ongoing shutdown and transfer of facilities abroad, these opportunities are becoming rarer by the day (especially for undergrads).

I agree that a fresh graduate with only a BSc won't get very far.....but those with higher and more advanced qualifications are still in demand (for the time-being). They just have to be willing to leave their comfort zones in order to find employment and gain some exp points.


  • matthewm12
  • Veteran

    • 123

    • August 31, 2011, 02:41:25 pm
    • South Korea
Re: Korean STEM education experiencing some setbacks
« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2013, 01:11:22 pm »
I learned that complex principles in astronomy could be taught more easily using miniature space crafts and a model of the solar system,

At first I was skeptical about this quote, since using models in lessons seems like common sense, but I admit I only know what happens in my own classes. Are science classes lacking in hands-on experiences or was this article written poorly?


  • waygo0k
  • The Legend

    • 3929

    • September 27, 2011, 11:51:01 am
    • Chungnam
Re: Korean STEM education experiencing some setbacks
« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2013, 01:34:54 pm »
My guess would be there is some hands on experience up to middle school.

In high school, there is little incentive to get hands on experience...especially if it's not going to turn up in the exam.

If the education board were to implement a practical exam as part of the final test, it would be a HUGE step in the right direction (before the students and teachers figure out how to memorize their way through the experiments  :P)