Overhaul called for middle schools

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Overhaul called for middle schools

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education yesterday ordered two top-level international middle schools to overhaul their admissions process and suggested a lottery system from 2015, following admission fraud scandals involving the prestigious private institutions.

The new code requires Younghoon International Middle School and Daewon International Middle School to drop the subjective section in next year’s entrance process, which assesses essays and recommendation letters from teachers.

The education regulator also suggested all places be allocated by a lottery among applicants, while reserving 20 percent of slots for those with disadvantaged family backgrounds, a drastic move from the current rigorous selection process.

The move came after prosecutors raided Younghoon International Middle School last month on suspicion that the elite school falsified the results of this year’s admissions test in an attempt to offer preferential treatment to some applicants.

The tampering of tests was led by three key school officials who deliberately inflated or deflated applicants’ scores when evaluating their statements of purpose, essays and reference letters.

“Ever since the international schools were founded, there have been concerns that they trigger an increase in private education expenses and fierce competition among applicants,” said Lee Byung-ho, director of the education policy division at the Seoul education office.

“We have changed the way the specialized schools select their students and the reform will provide more opportunities for minorities and children from modest backgrounds,” Lee said, as he announced the new reforms to reporters.

“International schools allocate more hours to teaching English, math and Korean language. If applicants figure this is a good fit for them, they will apply.”

The new measures also includes prioritizing applicants from low-income-level families when screening students under a special category set aside for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The school’s admissions process came under tight scrutiny when the son of Samsung’s Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was accepted under the disadvantaged category this year, citing his parents’ divorce.

The education office stressed there remains some sticking points to be worked out and it will devise a way to adopt the lottery system within the two schools as the reforms face of criticism for being too radical.

“We’ve agreed upon eliminating the process that evaluates essays and recommendation letters next year but the schools and the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education need to further discuss the lottery,” Park Suk-hee of the city’s school policy division told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]
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