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[Newsmaker] Seoul education chief admits 'naeronambul'

(The Korea Herald)
(The Korea Herald)
Seoul’s Education Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon admitted hypocrisy in pushing to get rid of elite private high schools while having sent his own kids to such schools.

“(I) admit it was ‘naeronambul’ to have sent my children to foreign language high schools while calling for the abolishment of autonomous private high schools,” Cho told the city council on Wednesday, referring to a popular term that translates into “If I do it, it’s romance. If you do it, it’s adultery.”

The twice-elected education superintendent of Seoul has pushed to scrap the autonomous private and foreign language high schools, which are costly as they do not get state funding, despite strong opposition from parents and students who want to study there.

Cho, whose two sons graduated from foreign language high schools in Seoul, has long been slammed for his double standards.

In June 2018, he said in a radio interview that “abolishment of the yangban (ruling class during the Joseon Dynasty) system gains more persuasive power when a yangban calls for it.”

In 2019, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education stripped eight high schools of their qualification as “autonomous” private high schools, citing their “substandard” scores in an evaluation.

These schools filed lawsuits against the city’s education office, and the Seoul Administrative Court has ruled in favor of them. The city education office has appealed against the court decision to cancel its revocation of the schools’ autonomous designation.

Cho said on Wednesday as he answered questions from the city council that his office lost the lawsuits because “the judiciary was conservatized.”

The Education Ministry has revised the enforcement ordinances of the education law early last year to turn autonomous private, foreign language and “global” high schools into regular high schools in 2025.

The autonomous private schools have filed a petition with the Constitutional Court, which is yet to rule on the case.

There are currently 38 autonomous private high schools nationwide, 21 of which are in Seoul; 30 foreign language high schools and seven global high schools.

Cho also said Wednesday, “We must build an equality project that can be accepted by not just people in their 50s and 60s, who have become society’s mainstream, but also those in their 20s and 30s.”

Regarding an ongoing investigation into his preferential hiring in 2018 of five teachers who had been fired for election law violations while working in his election camp, Cho said he would still rehire them if he had the chance to make the choice again, although he would be more careful about the procedure.

The Board of Audit and Inspection reported Cho to police over allegations of power abuse and corrupt practices in rehiring of the teachers, four of whom illegally raised campaign funds in 2008, and one who spread false information about a presidential candidate in 2002.

The case was sent over to the newly launched Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials, or CIO, which searched the city’s education office in May, but has not yet summoned anyone for questioning.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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