The Park Geun-hye administration is introducing a set of reforms for elite private schools amid criticism of their irregularities and gaps in education between the rich and poor.
The Ministry of Education announced on Wednesday it would revise the legislation on specialized middle and high schools to revoke permits for admissions fraud or other illegalities. The ministry said it would submit a related bill to the National Assembly in September.
On Tuesday the ministry said it would change the admissions system for “autonomous private schools” from the current grade-based selection to a lottery.
The announcements follow criticism that special-purpose schools, such as foreign language institutions, have repeatedly failed to abide by the current rules.
Prosecutors have indicted nine officials from Younghoon international middle school in Seoul on charges of fabricating grades to grant admission to unqualified students in return for bribes from parents.
Under the current elementary and secondary education act, the re-issuance of a permit for such international middle schools is evaluated 5 years after establishment.
The revised rule, however, will empower superintendents of education in each region to cancel licenses of the schools if they are linked to admissions fraud or any illegal act, according to the ministry.
The ministry is also looking to overhaul autonomous private schools first introduced by former President Lee Myung-bak.
The former leader claimed that the competition such schools provided by broadening the choice of education available to students would raise the quality of public education.
There are now 39 autonomous private high schools in Seoul and other major cities. These schools can charge up to three times more than public schools and enjoy more freedom in teaching programs, employment of teachers and other school affairs.
The ministry, however, believes these autonomous private high schools’ curricula have become more standardized, focusing on university entrance exam subjects, and they have partly contributed to a perceived hierarchy of schools.
Currently, the schools select students among qualified applicants by their middle school grades. But the ministry is planning to force them to select all students by lottery from 2015.
Also, the ministry said it would provide annual support of 50 million won ($44,600) to all public schools over the next four years as part of measures to enhance public schools.
Kim Jin-woo, co-chairman of teachers’ group Good Teacher, said he welcomed the ministry’s decision to strengthen the regulation of specialized schools.
“Those schools have created unnecessary competition among middle school students. The specialized school system was introduced without proper consideration in the first place,” he said.
“But I think the ministry’s plan will have an only temporary effect. The ministry should focus on diversifying public schools and strengthening them, otherwise the widening gap between special private and public schools will continue.”
By Oh Kyu-wook (firstname.lastname@example.org)