Even adults hate these schoolsAutonomous high schools, the subject of one of President Lee Myung-bak’s most challenging campaign promises, are having serious trouble luring students to their campuses. Of the 26 autonomous schools in Seoul, 11 were taken aback by critical shortfalls in applications this year for three years in a row. Reportedly, no students applied to Dongyang High School in Gangseo District so it has to run without a freshman class.
The shabby performance of autonomous schools in Seoul, following a similar situation in Daegu, only make us question their raison d´etre. They are clearly anathema of most parents, despite the lofty goal of providing both parents and students more choices in selecting schools and ratcheting up the quality of public education through more competition among high schools.
If you listen to parents’ complaints, you can instantly understand why the schools continue to be shunned. Parents simply cannot shake off the impression that the schools are little different from other schools even though their tuitions are three times higher. Parents are also convinced that fiercer competition among students in those schools doesn’t actually help their kids when they apply for colleges.
That does not mean autonomous schools are a complete failure. Ewha Girls’ High School - which has an acceptance rate of 1 to 3.06 applicants - clearly shows the direction the schools should be going. In two promotion sessions this year, the school didn’t offer parents such worn-out promises as “We will send your kids to top universities.”
Instead, it introduced parents to its diverse programs, including volunteer activities overseas or in rural communities and student exchange programs. The school also captured parents’ hearts by providing them with essential information on college application tutoring on behalf of profit-seeking private academies. The autonomous high schools that suffered from a dearth of applications never wrestled with the question of how to help the parents in that way.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is also responsible for the overload of autonomous high schools across the nation. It was the ministry that messed it up by rushing to set up 100 autonomous schools within President Lee’s term. What matters is not the number of such schools. Unqualified schools must return to being general schools. The ministry should grant more autonomy to institutions that are fully equipped with programs attractive enough to persuade parents to send their kids to them.