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[Newsmaker] Foreign language high schools await their fate

A committee comprising parents of students who attend foreign language high schools holds a press conference, calling for the government to withdraw its plan to abolish foreign language high schools in front of the National Assembly, Friday. (Yonhap)
A committee comprising parents of students who attend foreign language high schools holds a press conference, calling for the government to withdraw its plan to abolish foreign language high schools in front of the National Assembly, Friday. (Yonhap)

With the Education Ministry flip-flopping on its plan to scrap “elite high schools,” foreign language high schools have been once again pushed to the brink of abolition.

Confusion has ensued over the fate of elite schools every time the government changed hands.

The previous Moon Jae-in administration had planned to end autonomous private high schools, foreign language high schools and international schools, abolishing them or turning them into regular schools by March 2025, over concerns that so-called elite school education leads to social class disparity.

The abolition plan was, however, expected to be discarded under the Yoon Suk-yeol administration as its state agendas include “a reform of the high school system to provide diverse types of education.”

But Education Minister Park Soon-ae’s surprise announcement of a plan to abolish foreign language high schools in her report to the president has thrown the affected schools into chaos.

“While maintaining autonomous private schools, the abolition or transition of foreign language high schools to general schools or foreign language specialized high schools is being considered,” Park said in a press briefing before she reported to Yoon on July 29.

Choi Seong-bu, the spokesperson for the Education Ministry, also affirmed the Education Ministry’s stance to call for an abolition of foreign language schools.

“Foreign language schools are not fit for the future. We are reviewing the abolition or transition of foreign language schools to foreign language specialized high schools,” Choi said at a briefing Monday.

The announcement was met with strong opposition.

“We are surprised with Park announcing that she is looking into the abolition of foreign language high schools,” a committee of foreign language high school principals said in a statement, adding the abolition is “anachronistic and anti-educational.”

“The presidential transition committee of Yoon stressed on ensuring the people’s right and freedom to be educated as stated by the Constitution, guaranteeing the variety of education and the right of students to choose the type of the education. (The Education Ministry) however announced the education policies without any debates or meetings,” the statement read.

A committee of parents whose children attend foreign language high schools also held a press conference Friday in front of the National Assembly, criticizing the plan.

“The announcement from the education minister was very rushed,” a parent on the committee said. “Park rushed into announcing education policies, not considering the long term effects.”

The Education Ministry, seeking to make reassurances, said it is “looking over many measures” to nurture talents for the future and that it would announce a road map on the high school system reform within this year.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Park, who has been met with heavy criticism both on her personal life and ministry policies since she took office, has canceled most of her official schedules.

Since holding a press conference Thursday on a disinfection scheme for local schools in the second semester, she canceled her visit to a kindergarten in Seoul and a debate on the local education subsidy at the National Assembly. At Thursday’s conference, she left the scene without receiving questions from the press.

Park is to make an official appearance at the National Assembly Education Committee meeting on Tuesday.

By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)
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