[CON] Repair, don’t replace, the system*Should we scrap the special purpose high school system?
This election season, special purpose high schools have emerged as a topic of debate. Moon Jae-in, presidential candidate of the Democratic United party, promises to gradually turn international schools and those specializing in gifted students into regular schools, but retain science high schools. Independent Ahn Cheol-soo says he would preserve the schools, but scrap selective admissions. Moon Yong-rin, a conservative candidate for Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education superintendent, says scrapping the schools would undermine people’s desire for diversified education.
I recently had an opportunity to tour schools in Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and other Asian countries. I was impressed that the characteristics of each were reflected in their education systems to nurture future leaders and maintain quality education. I was especially impressed to see the different kinds of education programs run in each country to prepare for growing international competition.
Recently, some in Korean society have increasingly demanded that the system of special purpose high schools be scrapped. Special purpose high schools are science schools, foreign language schools, global schools, arts schools and sports schools. The public appeared to have no disagreement that science, arts and sports schools serve a purpose.
Foreign language high schools and global schools are often criticized for just the opposite: failing to serve their purposes, while being used as tools to enter prestigious universities. Of course, they do have some negative aspects, but we must not ignore their positive ones. Most graduates of those high schools enter universities at home and abroad and compete in the international community against other talented students from around the world, promoting the excellence of the Korean people.
Global high schools have a relatively short history, and they need to be improved to better serve their purposes. Currently, they are required to operate under the domestic curriculum and are not much different from regular high schools. Because their independence in curriculum is limited, some global high schools have failed to become competitive and critics said they are only serving as prep schools for college admission.
I worked at Seoul Global High School, and it tried to overcome precisely that shortcoming. It created the motto of educating global talents armed with intelligence, virtue and health. After students entered the school, they were prepared to have visions to become specialists in global and regional affairs and diplomats in the international arena.
They were taught to have basic knowledge of international issues and to communicate effectively. Students also received traditional Korean cultural education, such as taekwondo and folk dances. Each student was required to master a musical instrument.
The school also engaged children from low-income families and minorities to ensure a diverse and harmonious social life among the students.
Society is like a living organism that changes constantly. It is people who lead change in the society and it is education that changes the people. Education is our hope and future. Educating students to meet the changing needs of global society is the demand of our time, and I believe that special purpose high schools can contribute to this goal.
Until now, debates continued endlessly over whether or not we should keep the special purpose high schools. Every time, problems were fixed, and they are still operating today. Talking about the possibility of scrapping them once again will only let us go back to the past, instead of meeting society’s demands for diversity.
Now is not the right time to talk about the fate of the special purpose high schools. What we need are efforts to reinforce the system so that it can better serve its original purposes.
The government must implement policies to actively support them by giving them more independence in curriculum, faculty appointments and education finance.
Only then can they truly become special purpose high schools that educate a spectrum of talented young people.
*The author is the principal of Sehyeon High School and founding principal of Seoul Global High School.
By Lee Byung-ho