Daewon fleeced parents of billions

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Daewon fleeced parents of billions

One of the most prestigious high schools in Korea is facing what might be its biggest crisis to date.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education announced yesterday that from 2007 to last year, Daewon Foreign Language High School collected around 2.13 billion won ($1.9 million) in illegal funds from parents of their students.

“All parents were forced to donate around 400,000 won to 600,000 won to the school,” said an official at the education office.

Out of the total, 150 million won will be returned to the parents.

All 65 teachers and school officials at Daewon will receive penalties, according to the Seoul Education Office. The education office said that it will request the school to dismiss its chairman of the board, Lee Won-hee.

It plans to request severe penalties for Daewon’s principal, vice principal and five teachers who received more than 10 million won each. Some will either be dismissed or forced to retire. Also, penalties including a cut in salary and an official reprimand will be issued to 30 teachers who received more than 3 million won each. As for 28 other teachers and school officials who received relatively smaller sums, the education office said it will request the school to give them a warning.

The money, which the education office said the school forced parents to give, was found to have been used for activities including paying for teachers’ meals and outings, bonuses for teachers on special holidays, students’ snack fees and parents’ group meeting fees.

The case surfaced last month when a parent of a student at Daewon revealed that parents at the school had given the school illegal donations in 2007, during a forum held by civic groups, including the progressive Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, to discuss school corruption.

Daewon, founded in 1983, is the second oldest foreign language high school in Korea after Daeil Foreign Language High School.

The school started out as Daewon Foreign Language Institute but it gained official recognition from the government as a “special-purpose” high school during the early 1990s.

Middle school students with good language proficiency and grades started applying to foreign language high schools, which opened one after another. They started to gain prestige over normal high schools.

At present, there are 31 foreign language high schools in Korea.

As competition heated for admittance to the foreign language high schools, more students started going to private cram schools, or hagwon. Over the years, students’ dependence on hagwon grew to an alarming rate. The government announced drastic education reform policies in the aims to lower this dependency.

As a part of these measures, the Education Ministry announced details this January of a new admissions policy for foreign language high schools, in which applicants will be selected based mostly on their middle school English grades. Other outside examination grades or activities will not be considered during the admissions process.

Daewon’s reputation in Korea has been almost impeccable. Many of its students go onto Korea’s top ranking schools or prestigious U.S. colleges and universities. This year, out of the 31 foreign language high schools in Korea, Daewon got the most students into Seoul’s top five universities.

According to statistics compiled by the JoongAng Ilbo late last year, graduates of Daewon Foreign Language High School account for the second-largest number of lawyers, prosecutors and judges in the country.

By Cho Jae-eun, Park Su-ryon [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]

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