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Students allowed to use calculators in math class

Korean students will be able to use digital tools such as calculators and computers in math class from 2014 under the government plan to strengthen the real-life application of mathematics, Education Ministry officials said Tuesday.

The ministry will also oversee the math curriculum of middle and high schools to see if they follow the regular public curriculum in an attempt to curb excessive spending on private tutoring, according to officials.

Currently, Korean students are not allowed to use calculators in math class, but the government plans to allow their use in solving complex problems deemed as of little help to improving their arithmetic ability. Whether they will be permitted on exams hasn’t been decided.

The ministry has unveiled a plan to improve math education to be more applicable to real-life settings to deal with criticism that the current curriculum has failed to encourage students’ interest in the subject and drive excessive spending on private tutoring for scoring high on college entrance exam.

Math was the only subject where students and their parents spent more on private tutors last year, up 1.5 percent, while the amount spent on English and Korean did not rise, according to government statistics on private tutoring in 2010.

Under the plan, it plans to develop new math textbooks for elementary to secondary schools that emphasize real-life problems such as how smartphones are programmed and figuring out the visibility distance to Seoul Tower on a clear day.

It will also step up efforts to bridge the mathematic achievement gap between urban schools and rural schools by having math department college students help local students, officials said.

Math will be more popular among adults as the ministry plans to expand adult math class for parents and citizens.

Korean students are known for achieving high academic performance in mathematics by some international measures such as the Program for International Student Assessment, which evaluates scholastic performance of 15-year-olds in OECD member countries. But in reality, their high performance has been considered driven by their need to score high for the college entrance exam, leading them to consider the subject useless later in life.

By Lee Woo-young  (wylee@heraldcorp.com)
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