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Seoul mulls abolishing ‘elite’ high schools

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said Wednesday it recently conducted a study on possibly abolishing the high school pecking order, which Seoul’s education chief Cho Hi-yeon has pointed to as one of the main problems of the education system here.
Seoul’s education chief Cho Hi-yeon (Yonhap)
Seoul’s education chief Cho Hi-yeon (Yonhap)

A SMOE-commissioned research team has filed a report on “reforming the high school system to normalize primary and secondary education,” according to officials.

Led by Kim Kyung-keun, a professor of education in Korea University, the team pointed out that the hierarchy established by educational institutions that operate as elite schools has run counter to the government’s attempts to standardize high school education.

In Korea, foreign-language high schools, science high schools -- so-called “special-purpose schools” -- and autonomous private high schools are given leeway over school operations in exchange for government subsidies. Such schools sit atop the school pecking order.

The report assessed that as these premium schools are perceived as above others in terms of the quality of their educational environment, many students from regular high schools face a sense of inferiority that ail their studies.

The admissions process also penalizes regular schools, as elite schools are allowed to pick their students in the first half of the year while other schools hold their admissions in the second half of the year.

“The gap in academic achievements between schools continues to grow, and many regular schools have trouble (properly) conducting classes,” the report said. “Based on an analysis of parents and teachers, special purpose schools and autonomous schools showed high rates of satisfaction, but regular schools were shown to oppose the school hierarchy.”

The report suggested getting rid of the separate admissions and abolishing the elite school system in the long run.

Officials added that the report merely states the personal views of researchers who participated in the study and does not reflect the official views of the education office. However the left-leaning Seoul education chief Cho argued against elite schools even before taking office in 2014.

The right-leaning Korea Federation of Teacher’s Associations opposed the idea, saying that the general trend among students and parents is to call for differentiated education for standouts, not a standardized program for all students.

By Yoon Min-sik (
Korea Herald Youtube