[Viewpoint] Stop second-guessing high schools

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[Viewpoint] Stop second-guessing high schools

Last week, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology presented guidelines to autonomous private high schools in Seoul on how they may select new students.

According to the guidelines, the high schools in this category will decide on their own how much weight to give applicants’ middle school records - between 50 and 100 percent - and randomly select among applicants who meet the requirements.

It may sound as though the ministry is limiting the group that can apply for autonomous high schools using their middle school records.

But consider this: Autonomous high schools cannot interview applicants or recruit new students based on who has the best scores. The schools are being told to hold a lottery for all students who performed above average in middle school.

In principle, school autonomy means the right to develop one’s own curriculum, recruit one’s own students and manage one’s own finances.

Now, there are significant limits on how autonomous high schools can support themselves. It seems difficult for them to expect to have full autonomy in running their curricula, too.

If student recruitment is limited in this way, they can no longer be called autonomous high schools. They will be autonomous only in name.

For these reasons, those who work at autonomous high schools are already voicing their discontent. They ask if there will be any purpose left for them to continue to run autonomous schools under the new guidelines.

Of course, autonomy does not mean unlimited freedom for schools to teach whatever they want, select whomever they like and take as much in tuition as they need.

Considering social conditions, regulations are necessary to some extent. But having regulations set by the outside is against the purpose of establishing autonomous high schools.

The purpose of establishing these schools is to help students and parents become more satisfied with public education through diverse and specialized programs. The incumbent administration saw that a standardized high school system could not satisfy the diverse demand for education from students with different competencies and talents.

The administration has tried to resolve this problem by giving autonomy to some high schools.

But, one may ask, “Why autonomous private high schools?”

Private high schools have already been established with their own purposes and visions. Therefore, they can pursue diversity more freely than public schools can.

When asking each school to meet its responsibilities for education, private schools can do so more easily than public ones.

By creating competition between private and public schools, school education in general may become more satisfying.

The key to the autonomous high school project is to make private schools with unique educational visions offer an education that suits students’ special talents or competencies and lets them take responsibility for their own results. In doing so, students and parents can be provided with better education.

Why does the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology not want to give true autonomy to these private schools, then?

The reason is the heavy burden of private tutoring.

The ministry is under pressure, worried that it or the whole administration might come under fire for an autonomous high school system that encourages private tutoring.

We should not blame the ministry for acting cowardly.

It is difficult to say how realistic the worry of increased expenditure on private tutoring is.

Nevertheless, what is desperately needed right now is leadership that presents a vision for our country’s future and implements an educational policy accordingly.

When he served as Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair forced a school evaluation system to take root despite opposition from the union of teachers and educational workers, and from some parents.

His efforts are credited for having revived Britain’s public education, which was on the verge of dying.

Korea’s leaders also should remember that if they lose the power of public opinion, their careers are over. But even after they lose power they still need to take responsibility for what they have done.

*The writer is a professor of education at Chung-Ang University and the policy director of the Citizens Action for the Promotion of Education. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Lee Seong-ho
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