False hopeFalse hope
Seoul education authorities have backtracked on details of a high school entry system aimed at boosting educational opportunities and making the whole process more fair.
The idea revolves around allowing students to apply for the schools of their choice regardless of where they live. Under the initial proposal, middle school graduates would be able to list their top two schools anywhere in Seoul and then pick two more within their school district.
The government had said that each school would allocate 20 percent of its admissions quota to students who chose it among their top two choices, via a random lottery system. Another 40 percent of the students would get one of their second-tier choices, while the remaining 40 percent would be assigned to their nearest schools or those within the same school zone.
But the Seoul Office of Education suddenly watered down the initial outline over fears that there would be a flood of applications for select reputable school districts in Gangnam and Mokdong. Now, officials say 20 percent of incoming students will get their top choices through the lottery selection process but that all of the rest will be assigned to their nearest schools.
School entry application procedures start on Dec. 15. But the education office announced the changes just two weeks ago - less than a month before the new system is set to debut.
Education officials have been touting the new entry system since they floated the idea in 2006 as an innovative way to let eight out of 10 students get into the high schools of their choice. But these officials betrayed themselves, parents and students apparently to safeguard the privileged grounds for those already in the prestigious school zones.
The purpose of the new entry system is to promote competition among schools and teachers regardless of their locations, which in effect could strengthen the entire educational system here in Seoul. In fact, schools had been improving curriculum and the learning environment to better position themselves competitively. Local governments have also been extending support to foster good schools in their regions.
The Seoul Education Office has splashed cold water on these positive efforts. Moreover, its recent actions could in fact wipe out budding signs of trust and hope in public education.
Authorities must adhere to the original scheme. That is the only way to salvage faith in the local educational system and boost competitiveness in public education.