North Jeolla goes after schools, ignores ministry

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North Jeolla goes after schools, ignores ministry

North Jeolla’s education office yesterday announced it will revoke the self-regulated, or autonomous, status of two high schools.

The Education Ministry said it will immediately demand the education chief reverse his decision.

The Education Ministry said in a statement yesterday that the decision by the North Jeolla education chief violated education law and caused turmoil among parents and students interested in applying to the schools.

The North Jeolla education office’s decision came days after its newly elected education chief, Kim Seung-hwan, said he wanted to terminate the status of the schools because it favors the rich. Autonomous high schools can charge triple the tuition of regular schools.

The education office yesterday sent notices to Namsung and Gunsan Jungang high schools to tell them their status will be canceled. The two schools were awarded autonomous status on May 30 by Kim’s predecessor, Choi Kyu-ho. They planned to accept applicants under their new status at the end of this year.

Education policy in Korea is the subject of a tug-of-war between conservatives and liberals, especially the autonomous high schools, which are outside the lottery system that assigns most students to schools. Autonomous high schools can choose students on their own admission standards and can tailor a student’s studies to his or her ability.

Conservatives, including the ruling Grand National Party, believe the schools enhance Korea’s human resources and are vital to its future. Liberals say the schools make an end run around Korea’s egalitarian educational system and basically favor the affluent.

“The North Jeolla education office sent notice of revocation without seeking cooperation with the Education Ministry because it figured it didn’t have to after consulting legal experts,” said Ju Jae-bong, planning and management bureau chief of the North Jeolla education office. “The office will make its final decision without consulting the ministry as well.”

The Education Ministry said it will immediately request the education office to overturn its revocation.

Under Article 169 of the local government law, if an education chief makes a decision that harms the public interest, the Education Ministry has the right to reverse the order. If Kim refuses to comply with the ministry’s order within a given period of time, the ministry will execute its authority to stop or reverse the revocation.

Hong Cheol-pyo, principal of Namsung High School, said the revocations threatens the foundation of the current government’s education policies. “The concept of autonomous high school was created after the government’s long-time research found that it will save the public education and contain private education fever,” Hong said.

Kim Seong-gu, principal of Gunsan Jungang High School said he will seek an injunction from a court to block the revocation.

Lee Chan-wu, director general of Gunsan Jungang’s alumni association, said it will start a petition to oppose the revocations.

By Jang Dae-suk, Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]

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