Specialty schools under fire

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Specialty schools under fire

The question of whether to maintain or abolish foreign language high schools has again become the center of the education debate.

Foreign language high schools shouted out in agony during former President Roh Moo-hyun’s administration, which favored moves that diluted their stature.

Now, lawmakers from the Grand National Party - which during Roh’s reign spoke out in favor of these institutions - are putting pressure on foreign language high schools once again.

There is the distinct possibility that entrance examinations for these schools could be revised, possibly by abolishing the English-listening comprehension section of the tests, for example.

That would allow students from poorer families to enroll, as they wouldn’t need to already have a deep knowledge of the language. That is acceptable, but abolishing these schools is not.

The administration is pressuring foreign language high schools as part of its plan to reduce private education costs. It figures that these schools are the principal offenders when it comes to the high prices families are paying to educate their children outside of the regular public education system. However, this is a short-sighted evaluation of the situation, and the government has picked the wrong culprit. The solution to these skyrocketing costs can be found by looking at the education system in general, including the state of public education and the university entrance system. Getting rid of foreign language high schools would be a big mistake, one in which good intentions would almost certainly lead to dire results. This strategy could fail to reduce private education costs, and it would deprive Koreans of the option of sending their children to an elite institution.

It is best to approach this problem from the perspective of strengthening educational competitiveness. Foreign language high schools can in fact help in this area. It would be a national tragedy if the government enacts policies that essentially force foreign language high schools to shut down.

Of course, there are some problems related to these schools, which have become quite expensive.

But the government should help strengthen them so that they can produce competitive students to capitalize on the resources of this age and vie for jobs with workers from other countries.

We should also use this opportunity to look back at the initial purpose of these schools: to produce students gifted in different languages. It is worth considering efforts to diversify the types of schools for elite education - perhaps creating more focus in, say, social sciences or global leadership - as another solution. The cardinal point of educational competitiveness is to increase the number of good schools. The idea of getting rid of foreign language high schools is a move toward downward equalization, which the GNP heavily criticized before.
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