Private high school scheme flounders without students

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Private high school scheme flounders without students

The government’s autonomous private high-school program is sailing into troubled waters, with one such school, Yongmun High School in Seoul, begging the government to allow it to revert to being a normal school. The government said no yesterday.

The 64-year-old Yongmun High School became an autonomous school this year, which allows it to jack up tuition, choose any student it wants to enroll regardless of their scores on standardized tests, and draw up its own curriculum. But applicants for the 2011 freshman class only filled 34.7 percent of the 455 seats available.

“We will continue to be an autonomous high school and provide all conditions we promoted,” the school said in a statement yesterday afternoon at a meeting with parents. “But because we had few applicants this year, we will form eight classrooms with a smaller number of students per class, about 20, and make the quality of the classes the best among any other autonomous high schools nationwide.”

Started in 2009, autonomous high schools, which are outside the lottery that assigns students to schools, can choose students based on their own admissions standards and can tailor a student’s studies to his or her ability. They get no government funding.

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

In 2008, Minister of Education, Science and Technology Lee Ju-ho promised to establish 100 autonomous schools across the country while he is in office. But analysts wondered whether the program was too ambitious when the Seoul Education Office and the Education Ministry expanded the number of autonomous schools from 13 to 26 this year.

Earlier this month, 13 schools said they failed to fill their freshman classes for 2011 and analysts said parents couldn’t pay the higher tuition or didn’t fully believe the school’s claims. Lee said on Friday that he believed the 13 schools would fill their seats during a second application period on Saturday. But nine schools still have vacancies after Saturday. Yongmun High School had the lowest percentage of applicants compared to class size.

“The lack of students for our school is because of the excessive number of schools designated as autonomous,” said Jin Gyeong-mun, vice principal of the school. “We don’t think the vacancies are the school’s problem per se.”

About 40 Yongmun teachers protested at the lobby of the Seoul Education Office yesterday. The teachers requested a meeting with the superintendent of education, but the office rejected it.


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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