The massive admission fraud case involving some foreign schools here shows how morally degraded and legally insensitive the affluent in Korean society have become. Such moral laxity and disregard of the law permeating the upper class are to blame for exacerbating social disintegration at least as much as economic polarization is.
The prosecution is investigating parents of about 60 students who have been admitted to three foreign schools in Seoul and its vicinity through illicit means. Among them are a lawyer, an investment company CEO, a medical clinic head and their wives as well as family members of a dozen conglomerate owners or executives.
They are suspected of having bought fake passports or citizenship certificates of Latin American and African countries for up to 100 million won ($89,000) from migration brokers, before changing their nationality to enable their children to enter foreign schools, according to prosecution sources. For instance, the daughters-in-law of a conglomerate chairman and a vice chairman of another business group altered their nationality from Korean to Nicaraguan and Honduran, respectively, after obtaining fabricated passports of those Central American nations.
According to the law, only children of foreign residents here or Korean children who have lived abroad for more than three years are eligible to attend one of the 51 foreign schools here. But when either of a married couple has a foreign nationality, their children are allowed to enter the schools. Wealthy parents under investigation were caught making ill use of the clause.
In most cases, female spouses were found to have acquired foreign nationality, as it would have been more burdensome for their husbands in conspicuous positions to discard Korean nationality. Under the law, a list of people who have given up Korean nationality is published in the government gazette.
Foreign schools, especially those which teach in English, have drawn attention from affluent parents, who wish their children could learn the language more effectively and be better prepared for enrollment in prestigious universities abroad. Their popularity has grown in recent years as an alternative to sending young children to study overseas, which often causes problems for the kids themselves and their families.
When legally qualified, there should be no criticizing local parents for having their children attend international schools here, though some might envy them for being able to pay annual tuition ranging from 30 million won to 40 million won.
But there is no justification for getting a child admitted into one of these schools through illicit means. The rich, in particular, should refrain from such practice as they have already benefited more from society and can afford to provide their offspring with more than enough opportunities for better education through normal routes.
They should recognize what their children would learn from seeing their parents disregarding the law to achieve their selfish goals. It cannot be expected that the children, if they grow to be adults with common sense, would thank their parents for using fabricated documents to give them a privileged education. It is more likely that they might be embarrassed with their mother or father having a nationality of a country he or she has never been to or has stayed for a few days during their lifetime.
Social justice and harmony can never be achieved if parents in the elite class remain unashamed of letting their children learn moral laxity from them rather than the right way to live.
Though no link between the brokers and the foreign schools in question have so far been discovered, the prosecution should also thoroughly scrutinize whether the schools were aware of, or involved in the fraud.
The websites run by many of the international schools here emphasize their curriculums are designed to spark and nurture the ingenuity, curiosity and leadership of their students. If they accept even one student by intentionally overlooking doctored documents, their education goals will sound hollow.