Published : 2013-08-20 19:53
Updated : 2013-08-20 19:53
Education is said to be a project that requires a far-sighted plan spanning at least a hundred years. Unfortunately, in Korea, education has been a very hit-and-miss affair. Policy flip-flops have been frequent, confusing students, parents and teachers.
The latest case in point involves autonomous private high schools, which are, together with Meister vocational high schools, symbolic of the preceding Lee Myung-bak government’s educational policy.
Autonomous private schools refer to private schools that are granted greater autonomy in designing their curriculum in return for maintaining a higher level of financial independence.
To remain financially independent, these schools collect tuition fees that are up to three times higher than those of ordinary schools.
What makes these schools attractive to parents, despite their high tuition cost, is that admission is limited to high-achieving students. Applicants should be in the top 50 percent in their respective cities.
Recently, the Ministry of Education abruptly decided to deprive these schools of their main selling point. It announced that from 2015, they should admit students regardless of their school achievement.
The ministry views these schools as the main culprit behind what it calls the crisis of public education. Autonomous schools, so goes its explanation, skim off top students, leaving only average and underperforming students behind.
This saps the enthusiasm of teachers at ordinary schools. Students also become less motivated to study hard. As a result, their academic ability falls.
To justify its decision, the ministry cited a survey, which analyzed the performance of students at ordinary high schools in Seoul on the 2012 college scholastic ability test.
It found that more than a third of students at 70 of the 214 surveyed schools belonged to the bottom 23 percent in the Korean, math and foreign language fields.
The survey’s findings are disturbing, but they do not necessarily justify the ministry’s abrupt action. One could argue that autonomous private schools are only one of the many factors behind the crisis of ordinary high schools.
The ministry’s move caused worries among educational experts as it is highly likely to kill autonomous private schools.
These schools were created to broaden the choice of education available to students. Expanding school choice is a worthy goal as it contributes to raising the quality of public education.
In this regard, the ministry needs to find ways to help autonomous private schools remain attractive to talented students. It should listen to the complaints of the operators of these schools, who have already made considerable investment in line with the preceding government’s policy.