The Education Ministry’s recent move to officially register unauthorized alternative education institutes has sparked a dispute about the government possibly being overly authoritative and controlling regarding the operations of these facilities.
Last week’s report by the ministry revealed a series of irregularities by some 230 alternative schools in Korea, including illegal curriculums, high tuition and substandard safety measures. But the institutes are saying the ministry is generalizing the problems of a few to pass a law that will force the institutes to do whatever it pleases.
“What the ministry is seeking is excessive control over the facilities. They are basically saying anyone who does not willingly enter their system will be forced to shut down,” said Jeong Seon-im, an official from the People’s Solidarity of Alternative Education, an association of 53 alternative education institutes in Korea.
She said that having to register would end up infringing on the alternative schools’ autonomy, which she believes is one of their greatest merits.
“The word ‘unauthorized’ implies that the facilities seek to be authorized someday. But they are refusing the registration itself, because the state education system forces the students to blindly follow instructions. Alternative education intends to put students at the center of education, which is why it cannot be authorized,” Jeong said.
Another issue raised by the ministry was that some unregulated international schools are being operated as de facto elite schools with hefty tuitions and curriculums that heavily focus on college entrance. While the PSAE official said this was true, she stressed that there are only a handful of examples of this and said the government should not punish all unauthorized institutes for the faults of a few.
In fact, the PSAE and other related civil groups do not even recognize the high-priced institutions as legitimate alternative schools, she said. None of the four alternative schools with a yearly tuition of more than 20 million won ($19,491) are members of the PSAE.
But the ministry is bent on keeping tabs on these schools and is planning to conduct a subsequent inspection on them. In the aftermath of the deadly ferry tragedy in April that left 300 dead or missing ― most of them high school students ― the education authorities vowed to ensure the safety of school environments by conducting safety checks in schools across the country.
Jeong said the PSAE has been working on its own safety manual, but the Education Ministry insisted on using the standardized criteria for regular schools, which she believes fail to reflect the unique attributes of the alternative schools.
“Safety measures take time. It’s a work in progress, but it (the ministry) keeps threatening us with ‘It’s either my way, or the highway.’ It just does not work like that,” she said.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)