[Viewpoint] Don’t ruin foreign language schools

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[Viewpoint] Don’t ruin foreign language schools

Politicians are tossing around a hot potato involving foreign language high schools.

The ruling Grand National Party is expected to put forward a proposal to revise the primary and secondary school law to reorganize foreign language high schools as private schools running partly on liberal curriculum.

The opposition Democratic Party backs the complete breakup of the elite prep school organizations. If it has its way, they would dissolve into ordinary high schools.

Foreign language high schools have long been the envy of other schools because of their impressive success in placing graduates in top colleges at home and in the United States. They are now teetering on the brink of destruction.

The schools have responded by unveiling new assessment measures, such as eliminating the English listening test and placing greater emphasis on middle school academic performance in reviewing admission applications. But the political front appears steadfast in its determination to demolish the elite system.

We’ve seen it before.

When the former administration in 2007 attempted to abolish foreign language high schools it led to an uproar by school heads across the nation.

The Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association opposes elimination of foreign language high schools purely on the assumption that they fuel the country’s obsession with English and private tutoring.

Foreign language high schools are widely regarded as the culprits behind breeding and encouraging the country’s exorbitant quest and hunger for private education. Many parents indeed spend small fortunes to ready their children for foreign language high schools that promise entry into the best colleges.

Yet doing away with the schools won’t likely end spending on college preparation. It’s not that simple.

The private education industry works like any other market. The supply grows with demand. If foreign high schools are eliminated, new elite schools will be created in their stead, further feeding the private education industry.

The problem won’t cease to exist as long as parents harbor the desire to send their children to select schools and universities. It is like any other eradication campaign. It will have a balloon effect where compensatory efforts in one direction merely shift the problem to other areas.

The drastic and short-sighted approach of closing down several schools can only exacerbate confusion and mistrust in education policies.

Although more time-consuming and laborious, we need to strengthen public education while building a new paradigm for college entrance that can gradually ease the fervor for private education.

There is no quick panacea to the private education disease. But being patient while we strengthen public education will, in the end, prove to be the fastest cure.

Restructuring foreign language high schools should be addressed as an educational problem rather than a means to solve the issue of private education. The schools helped to sift out talent from the uniform education system and proved to be successful incubators for promising youths who are competent on the global stage.

Few will argue that we need leaders in various fields to push our country forward. We shouldn’t rush into bulldozing these institutions without first having a comprehensive study and analysis of their achievements over the last 25 years.

There is much room for improvement in their academic targets, curriculum, selection of new students and focus on college entrance.

These problems should be debated publicly to find solutions. And the schools’ entrance criteria should be revised so as to lessen dependence on private education.

The schools should widen doors to underprivileged students that cannot afford expensive private tutors by allocating them to have a fair shake at being selected.

Foreign language high schools have been the passion of many parents largely due to their scarcity. There are only around 30 of these schools offering elite educational options, far too few to meet many parents’ insatiable appetite for selective education. The high school system should be broadened and diversified to meet the demand for students with abilities in a variety of areas.

We hope the present controversy spurs the government and politicians to use seek a new education model to provide diverse secondary education and upgrade the country’s overall system of teaching and learning.


*The writer is a professor at Hanyang University, College of Education.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Noh Jong-hee

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