INCLUSIVE EDUCATION does not challenge the most able pupils and makes normal people feel inferior, according to a South Korean expert in educating talented youngsters.
Mixed-ability classes also make life harder for teachers, added Jeongkyu Lee of the National Research Center for Gifted and Talented Education in South Korea on a visit to Scotland last week.
"Intellectual equals are able to work together and co-operate more effectively because they are of similar abilities," said Dr Lee.
"Under a policy of inclusion, the self-esteem of less able students suffers it is really tough to have to compare yourself with a gifted youngster when you are just a normal child."
Dr Lee, one of a group of 30 South Korean educationists visiting Scotland with a view to taking the "good things" of its education system back to his country, was impressed by attempts to involve teachers in the debate around the devel-opment of A Curriculum for Excellence.
But South Korea would not be exchanging its policy of "pulling out" or selecting talen- ted youngsters for the Scot- tish policy of inclusion, he said.
South Korean youngsters are among the most likely in the developed world to achieve an upper secondary education and to hold university degrees.
But the government, according to Dr Lee, does not believe in the comprehensive system. Since 2000, separate schools science academies have existed for children who excel at maths and science, and more academies specialising in languages and computing are planned. In the meantime, talented youngsters are given additional tuition after school from the age of 12.
Ultimately, South Korea hopes to have 1 per cent of its young people in "gifted education" the current level is 0.7 per cent.
However, the South Korean system is not without its critics. Children work long hours often studying from 6am until mid- night and are actively en- couraged to compete against each other. Corporal punishment is common.
Margaret Sutherland, of the Scottish Network for Able Pupils, who organised the visit, expressed concerns about some aspects of the South Korean system. "The way they pull children out can lead to children being missed and not getting the opportunity to stretch themselves," she said. "For those pulled out, it restricts their options."
Remedial classes did not work for young people of lower academic ability in the UK, she added. Thus she doubted that separate teaching for able pupils would.
Dr Lee acknowledged that the South Korean system was strict. That was because South Korea's future prosperity depended on having an educated workforce, he argued: "The idea of people as resources is the foundation of our economy."
What did he think of Scotland's short school day? "I respect the idea that youngsters should have more time to themselves every nation has its own educational culture and ethos," he said.
It seems unlikely, however, that, along with inclusion, this will be one of the "good things" the delegation takes back to South Korea.
So far this year, South Korean delegations have visited Israel, Australia, the United States and Singapore to examine their education systems. This was their first visit to the UK.