Keep schools, not corruptionYounghoon International Middle School and Daewon International Middle School in Seoul faced criticism for admission corruption. Because the integrity of the admission process is extremely important, irregularities at the two schools are beyond imagination. It was inappropriate that the son of Samsung Group Vice President Lee Jae-yong was given admission on the basis of being a child from an underprivileged family.
There are even more serious concerns that the school lowered other students’ grades systemically to accept some specific students. The prosecution is currently investigating the case, and all the irregularities must be uncovered thoroughly. Those responsible must be punished sternly to prevent recurrence of similar crimes.
There are four international middle schools around the nation, including Younghoon and Daewon, and more schools will open in Ulsan and Daejeon in 2014 and 2015. The schools are intended to educate global leaders and assist students returning from overseas to better settle in Korea while attracting students who will study abroad. The system satisfies various needs of students and parents, and quality education is provided without studying abroad.
According to Statistics Korea, 16,515 young students are still studying abroad as of 2011. Parents are also paying increasing attention to the English education city of Jeju and the international school in Songdo. It shows the problems associated with the public education system.
The admission corruption at some international middle schools, which began selecting students in 2009, must be ended, but it is inappropriate to scrap the international middle school system entirely by saying that it triggered unnecessary competition in elementary schools and that it only serves a few elite families. Instead, more international middle schools should be established to meet the rapidly growing demand for the program. Our society has up to 300,000 fathers who are living alone because their children and wives are living abroad for the children’s education, and this is an abnormality that we must resolve.
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education recently announced a modification to the admission process for international middle schools in the city. Under the new rules, all freshmen will be selected in a lottery. The office also decided to revise the admission system for the underprivileged so that children from vulnerable classes, such as families receiving welfare, will be given admission priority.
But when applicants are selected only through a lottery starting in 2015, the original intention of opening international middle schools will be tainted. A lottery has nothing to do with each individual student’s ability and it is also an abnormal way that has nothing to do with the school’s original purpose of assisting students returning from overseas and luring students away from extended periods of time abroad. If the application process must be simplified, a lottery can be introduced only after narrowing down the number of applicants to three times more than the quota through a thorough screening. That is more consistent with the school’s purpose.
We must use this opportunity to improve the transparency of international middle schools. The integrity of the admission process is important to win society’s trust in educational institutions.
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education must create thorough systemic safeguards to prevent admission corruption in the future. Our nation’s international education system depends on quick and complete action on the part of government officials.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor of education at Sungkyunkwan University.
By Yang Jung-ho