Park to make good on free high school pledge

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Park to make good on free high school pledge

The Park Geun-hye government and the ruling Saenuri party have agreed to follow through on one of the main campaign pledges Park pushed when she was a candidate last year - free high school education.

The government announced Tuesday that it will gradually introduce the scheme next year and expand coverage to almost all high schools by 2017.

The announcement was made following a trilateral meeting at the National Assembly attended by officials from the Blue House, the ruling party and the Ministry of Education. Education Minister Seo Nam-soo, Presidential Secretary for Education and Cultural Affairs Mo Chul-min and Kim Gi-hyeon, the chief Saenuri lawmaker.

“To lighten the burden of education costs on parents, we decided to start providing free [high school] education in rural and remote areas first, starting from next year, and extend the coverage to the whole nation by 2017,” said the Saenuri Party’s Kim Hee-jung during a press briefing.

Park’s campaign promises underlined the importance of a high school education in a country where 69 percent of students go on to a four-year college, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

It is estimated that the plan will save a household with a high school student 1.45 million won ($1,297) a year on average.

Though the government scheme covers both public and private schools under state supervision, autonomous and special purpose high schools, where principals have the authority to set the fees, will not be part of the program.

The cost of implementing the plan between 2014 and 2017 is estimated at 3.5 trillion won. After that, it will cost 2.15 trillion a year to sustain the coverage.

At the meeting, they also agreed to seek ways to strengthen Korean history education amid growing public calls for such classes to be improved.

Much of the motivation behind such demands is nationalistic and spurred on by provocative rhetoric from Japan regarding the Dokdo islets, which it claims and calls Takeshima, and victims of sexual slavery during World War II.

Among the options discussed were including Korean history as a requirement on the national college entrance exam or making a certification proving a certain level of historical knowledge a necessity for university admission.

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