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South Korean Institution Rewards Creativity in Technology

July 22, 2009

A state-financed South Korean technology university is seeking to become more internationally relevant in the technological advancements of the future.

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) began in 1971 as part of South Korea’s effort to become more industrial.
But the university’s president, 73-year-old Suh Nam-Pyo sees a revolutionary new future for the institution.

“Korea can no longer develop its economy by following what everyone else has done already, because it is at the leading edge of a number of these traditional industries,” he told AFP.

“I think Korea needs to have a very different kind of education where we produce more people who can think, who can lead by conceiving solutions to problems that humanity has to solve in the 21st century.”

Suh said that written school entrance exams are causing many of the problems with the nation’s education system.

“They are not really providing education as such, they teach people how to take exams,” he said.

“So students don’t really get to practice how to define what the problem is, how to reason and how to drive solutions.”

“Based on that philosophy we eliminated written (entrance) exams altogether,” he said.

Suh has gained recognition for his unconventional approach to the education system.

Among other tactics, Suh said tenure is denied to professors who are not up to par. Also, students who cannot achieve what is expected of them will lose their free tuition.

And in an effort to place the institution among the world’s top 10 science and technology universities, Suh said KAIST will be offering classes only in English by next year.

“One of our goals is to produce graduates who can become global leaders in science and technology. Nowadays, unless one is fluent in English it’s hard to function in a global setting,” he said.

KAIST has been mentoring some of the world’s most revolutionary concepts, including a road that recharges vehicles and a mobile harbor the goes to ships.

“Why should ships come into harbor? Why not have a harbor go out to the ships?” said Suh.

“The message for students is that everybody has the right to think creatively,” he said. “Creativity is what we are trying to instil in our students.”

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Image Credit: Wikimedia

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