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Reforming public schools

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July 15,2009
The final list of Seoul s first 13 self-governing private high schools, to launch next March, has been announced.

Even though a very limited number of schools applied for the status initially, the new program represents a significant first step toward raising the competitiveness of public education. Other cities and provinces are set to announce their lists this month.

It s an appropriate measure that creates healthy competition among high schools, bolsters diversity within the system, creates more choice and fosters school independence from the government.

We expect it to find its footing.

Under the plan, these self-governing private schools will not receive funding from the government.

In exchange, they will have the authority to establish their own curriculum.

Without deviating too much from the nationwide compulsory curriculum, these schools can set up their own programs, thus offering diverse educational opportunities.

The 13 schools are touting the fact that they can offer customized classes that suit varying academic skill levels.

In other words, they want to do away with the tedious standardized system of the past and introduce more diverse methods to nurture creative and talented students.

This is a step in the right direction toward restoring public education.

The problem, however, is that if financially strapped schools are selected to participate, then they may not be able to carry out their proper duties under the plan.

Self-governing private schools operate only on tuition fees and funds provided by foundations. Among 37 schools nationwide that applied for the self-governing status, 17 could not pay teachers pensions and insurance, among other obligations, and had to ask regional education offices for help.

Such struggling schools have to be filtered out in the selection process so that students won t fall victim in the end.

Limiting self-governing schools right to admit students must also be reconsidered. Selecting students through a lottery will tie the hands of the schools when it comes to offering specialized curriculum. Such a policy, therefore, will discourage schools from applying for the self-governing status in the first place.

To be self-governing in the truest sense of the term, the schools must be allowed to choose their students in accordance with their curriculum. That would be in line with the intent and goals of the system, which is to create specialized schools and thus encourage competition.



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