중앙데일리

Foreign language high schools get handed new rules

Must trim class sizes or convert to other types of educational functions   PLAY AUDIO

Dec 11,2009
By Seo Ji-eun
The controversial foreign language high schools won’t be gone but will be required to meet such requirements as reducing the number of classes and adopting an admissions officer system starting with 2013 admissions, the Education Ministry said yesterday.

Existing foreign language high schools will also be given the choice of changing into international, autonomous private or autonomous public high schools.

The final draft of the reform measures came two weeks after the ministry unveiled two tentative options to choose from - letting foreign language schools continue under a few conditions or transforming them into other types of schools.

“After discussions with various involved parties, we concluded it is necessary to foster human resources with talent in foreign languages,” said Lee Gyu-seok, head of the school education support bureau at the ministry.

Foreign language high schools have been blamed for fanning the nation’s private education fever and increasing financial burdens on households. The nation saw the first foreign language high schools - Daewon and Daeil - in 1984. Such schools became immensely popular from the mid 1990s after they sent a sizable portion of their students to prestigious universities at home and abroad.

Lee, the Education Ministry official, said foreign language high schools led “elementary school students to perform pre-studies in preparation for gaining admission to highly competitive foreign language high schools.”

A few months ago, a group of politicians led by Chung Doo-un of the ruling Grand National Party proposed a bill that would have totally eliminated the schools to ease household spending on private education institutes and tutors.

Under the draft yesterday, foreign language high schools intending to remain as they are now will be forced to reduce the number of students per class to a maximum of 25 and the number of total classes per grade will be limited to 10.

The starting point will vary between public and private foreign language high schools. Public foreign language high schools should shrink in size for 2011 admissions, while their private counterparts will have five years to adopt the changes.

Under the initial draft released two weeks earlier, foreign language high schools were to slash the number of students in a class to an average of 16.9 - the figure for science high schools.

Currently, Korea has 30 foreign language high schools, with 18 of them run by private foundations. In Seoul, Daewon, Daeil and Myungduck run 12 classes per grade, while the Seoul and Hanyoung schools have 10. Ewha Girls’ operates six classes per grade. There is an average of 36.5 students per classroom across all foreign language high schools.

Existing foreign language high schools opting to transform into international high schools must meet even stricter requirements in the number of students and facilities. International schools, now totaling four nationwide, are differentiated from foreign language high schools in that they pay more consideration to students’ middle school records in screening applicants and foreign students can attend. International schools have an average of 22.7 students per classroom and are equipped with diverse language-learning facilities with the goal of fostering “global-minded talent.”

The Education Ministry issued further details about the changes in the admission procedures at foreign language high schools. Starting late next year, when those schools will recruit students for entrance in 2011, an admissions officer system will be launched. The ministry believes the system can effectively assess an applicant’s “potential.” English language proficiency tests such as the Toefl and scores in various academic competitions will be removed from the screening process.

The new regulations will also apply to international high schools and autonomous private high schools.

Admissions officers will be required to review applicants’ ability to perform “self-led study” as one of the key factors in making selections. Self-led study gauges students’ ability to set their own study plans and check their own progress. The ministry said it plans to produce guidelines on self-led study and distribute them to all foreign language high schools.

Also, middle schools should create a new section in student records that keeps track of books that individual students read. That section is another key consideration.

The comprehensive reform plans received a mixed response.

The main opposition Democratic Party urged the Education Ministry to develop entirely new measures to strengthen the public education system, saying foreign language high schools will have no choice but to increase tuition by nearly fivefold if they want to exist. The draft yesterday is meant to serve “a small portion of the high social class,” the lawmakers said.

The Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union said the admissions officer system will create more private education spending, given that the effectiveness and objectivity of the new screening measures have not yet been verified.

Foreign language high schools - private ones in particular - strongly protested the government announcement for different reasons. Reduced class size means less income. Lee Taik-whi, principal of Hanyoung Foreign Language High School, said, “Private foreign language high schools are already suffering financial hardships due to the absence of government subsidies. When the government says we should scale down further, that is no different than saying we may have to shut down.”

Chi Won-ho, principal of Daewon Foreign Language High School, said, “Mandatory reduction in student enrollment when there are so many students willing to get a quality foreign language education is a national loss.”

Most of the principals said opting to change their schools into autonomous private or public schools is “unattractive,” given that those new schools, to be launched in March next year, pick students through lotteries.


By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]



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