Korean students who spent, well, a lifetime gearing up for the American Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the dream of attending one of the world’s top universities, received a shocking email this week about the SAT test scheduled for Saturday, May 4:
Sorry, guys and gals. It’s canceled.
All accusing fingers are pointing to yet another suspected leak of questions by cram schools in Seoul.
This follows several incidents of other alleged leaks over the past five years, including one as recently as February, that saw the Seoul Central Prosecutors Office raiding eight private academies in Gangnam on suspicions that they were leaking test questions to students.
Without addressing the reason for the sudden cancellation, students are left only to parse what they can from a released statement by test administrators. According to the SAT College Board and local administrators ETS:
Because a number of test-takers have likely already been exposed to these test materials, we had no choice but to cancel the May administration to ensure the validity of SAT and SAT Subject Test scores that are reported to colleges and universities and to protect the integrity of the test administration process for all test takers.
Though this Saturday’s SAT’s are canceled in Korea, they will still be administered as planned at other locations around the world, as the board deemed it unlikely that the leaked questions were acquired by test-takers outside of Korean borders.
For students who can afford it, there is the option of flying to another country, such as Japan, to take the exam, but that isn’t proving easy, said one official.
‘There are so many students now trying to take the SATs in Japan, so a lot of the test centers are already maxed out.’
The College Board did announce that its June date for the SAT in Korea is still set to take place as scheduled, though one anonymous test-taker told Arirang News that they have their doubts.
‘Even though they say the next test date in June won’t be canceled, I won’t be surprised if they did.’
Considering previous instances of highly-visible irregularities here on the peninsula, the future of the SAT in Korea may well be in question. Back in 2007, the test scores of 900 students were canceled after taking the test when cheating was uncovered, but this is the first time the SAT has been canceled before the actual test date.
There were further allegations of leaked questions in 2010, but no action was taken by the board at that time to prevent students from taking the test.
The Curious Case of Jeffery Sohn
Questions regarding lax punishment for violations of ethical standards are also being raised. One of the eight cram schools that was raided in February was established by Jeffery Sohn, 42, a well-known ‘star lecturer’ who was previously indicted for the leaking of SAT questions.
At that time, Sohn was alleged to have obtained a copy of the SAT test taken in an earlier time zone and then uploading the questions on a web community page so that his students could prepare answers prior to taking the exam.
Sohn, who was ridden roughshod by the Korean press, was able to establish another school long before a Korean court recently acquitted him in late March of this year.
Regarding their ruling, the Seoul Central District Court said, ‘The testimonies of the people who allegedly gave (Sohn) the questions lack credibility and consistency,’ adding that there is also a possibility that someone other than Sohn could have posted the questions on the website.
Is this simply a case of Sohn twice being in the wrong place at the wrong time? And why was such weight put on the testimony of alleged fellow conspirators? Or, was there pressure applied by the hagwonsâone of whom apparently kidnapped Sohn and severely beat him in 2010 when he tried to abandon their employ?
One wonders if we are still talking about education or the criminal underworld.
Korean Cultural Traits: What Exactly is ‘Plagiarism’?
Continuing instances of academic breaches of public trust have Korean education officials worried over the ‘shame’ it brings to the country’s image. One of the more talked about forms of ‘cheating’, in both the international and domestic media, is plagiarism and its wide-reaching presence in Korean academia.
From the seven national assembly lawmakers last year who were found to have plagiarized their dissertations to the head of the Korean Human Rights Commission; from celebrities to a great number of students still cutting their teeth in academia; it seemingly reaches all levels of society in Korea.
Some, such as Heo Nam-kyol, a professor at the Department of Ethical Culture at Dongguk University in Seoul, attribute plagiarism to being a simple fact of Korean cultural history.
In an interview this time last year with the Korea Times, Heo said:
Under the Confucian tradition, pupils were taught to copy the words of their teachers when they learned in village schools instead of writing their own opinions. Such a tendency must have prevented students from being creative.
Heo added that, Students seemed to think their efforts only had authority only if they cited their instructors’ work.
Heo contrasted the differences with Western values saying that, in the West, students such as Aristotle, who criticized their teachers became famous for doing so. In Korean society, this was considered a taboo.
Western professors and researchers often cite plagiarism as a common trait amongst their Asian students.
‘The ethics of copyright differ. In the East, a good copy is something to be proud of. Uniqueness and credit where credit’s due is not as important there as they are here in the West, said Pieter Jonker, professor of Vision-Based Robotics at Delft University of Technology for an article in the Netherlands newspaper Mare, whose title posed the question, ‘Is there such a thing as Asian plagiarism?’
Regardless, Korea’s obviously on a hard-fought drive towards playing within the boundaries of international norms. And yet, there is a documented increase in the lack of will by the education establishment to address the ‘tradition’ of copying another’s work.
A survey conducted earlier this year as quoted in the Kyunghyang Shinum found ‘on the issue of plagiarism committed by a fellow professor, 86.3% of the respondents said that they would ‘criticize, but quietly handle the issue’ (62.6%) or ‘pretend not to know’ (23.7%) rather than strongly raise the issue. The number of respondents who answered that they would pretend not to know increased more than five times compared to the 2001 survey.’
Interestingly, the number of respondents who said that they would pretend not to know increased by more than five times when compared to a similar survey conducted in 2001.
While cultural relativist will argue that this ‘tradition’ is neither good nor bad, but simply what it is, the fact remains that the world is moving in a different direction and Korean authorities, intent on positive international acclaim, want to see it on that path.
And how this continuing watershed of questionable scholastic ethics will affect the millions of Korean students pursuing study abroad remains to be seen, but, suffice it to say, the world’s leading colleges will be looking with even greater detail at applications that originate from the peninsula.