Letting students chooseThe trial run of the new high school selection system, which allows students to choose the high school they want to attend, has fallen short of expectations. Applicants were encouraged to make their choices based on academic excellence and the school’s name and reputation. Seoul education authorities, however, veered from the original plan and gave priority to students whose first choice was a school near their home.
In the trial run, students’ first choice among the 196 high schools in Seoul was Sindorim High School, with a competition ratio of 17 to one. It was a refreshing surprise. The school is just a year old and is located in the working-class district of Guro in northern Seoul, but the school’s tailored curriculum and various after-school programs are highly deserving of recognition.
Like Sindorim, the most popular schools among parents and students were the ones with the most passionate teachers. Soongeui Girls’ High School and Konkuk University High School, which were in the top five, have dedicated teachers who stay late to help students and develop their own teaching materials to improve classes. The trial run proves that students want schools with teachers who care about their students and are invested in their work.
But the education authorities gave students a limited ability to choose which school they will attend. Only 14.9 percent of middle school graduates got into schools in school districts that are not their own.
During the mock application process last year, an estimated 35 percent of students applied for schools in districts outside of their homes, with 11 percent of students from northern Seoul seeking to enter schools in education-intensive southern Seoul. Later, regulations were amended to give priority to students living close to their school of choice, which discouraged students from choosing schools outside their district.
The new selection system was initiated to give students a choice in their education and incite competition among the schools. But the system will not succeed if the choices are limited to the students’ district of residence.
Now, the education authorities should return to the original plan and give students the freedom to choose. That is the only way in which the system can benefit all and help revive our nation’s educational system.