[EDITORIALS]New Schools Must Avoid Elitism

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[EDITORIALS]New Schools Must Avoid Elitism

The Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development will manage model independent high schools next year that will select their own students and set their own tuition rates and curriculum. This will be the first change since 1974 in the standardized high school system which provided roughly the same education to all.

According to the plan, the government will select one or two financially sound private schools with high standards from each province. About 30 high schools will be selected by October 20 and will begin test operations next year, a ministry official said. In December, the new high schools will screen applicants in their third year of middle school, evaluating their talents and middle school grades.

The introduction of independent high schools was inevitable to cure the ills of the standardized education system, which dragged down the average attainments of all students. The 20-year-long standard education system had advantages when Korea was in its initial phase of industrialization. But there were ill effects, such as classroom discipline problems with bored students and high private education fees paid by parents who want a better education for their children. In a knowledge-based society, nurturing creative minds is critical for competitiveness. Education policies must promote diversity and competitiveness instead of providing a cookie-cutter education.

There are some pitfalls to avoid; the independent high schools must not turn into elite prep schools to feed prestigious universities. Some high schools specializing in foreign language or science schools turned into prep schools for the college entrance examination; that must not happen again. Already, news reports say, prep classes are being set up at some cram schools in the high-rent Gangnam district to prepare students for entry into the new high schools. Worries about "aristocratic schools" are cropping up, so scholarships must be given to more students than the planned 15 percent minimum; students from working-class backgrounds must have more opportunity to develop their talents. Finally, the money provided to the schools by the funding foundation should be more than the planned 20 percent of schools' total income.
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