High school system to see overhaul

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High school system to see overhaul

Just half a year since the Park Geun-hye administration took office, the country’s secondary education system is set to undergo a drastic overhaul to boost the declining status of public schools.

The Ministry of Education announced its reform plans yesterday, including measures such as enabling students to apply to autonomous private schools regardless of their grades.

Such institutions were a part of a Lee Myung-bak administration attempt to diversify schools and curriculums and allow students to choose schools outside their district. But the system has faced criticism for not living up to its original intent.

In Seoul, only students whose middle school records are in the upper 50 percent are able to apply for the selection lottery for such schools.

But under the new plan starting in 2015, students will be able to apply for 39 autonomous high schools in designated regions, including Seoul and Daegu, regardless of their academic achievements.

The move is a response to the fact that the best students are highly concentrated in schools located in education hubs such as Gangnam or Mok-dong, leading to increased competition between top students in those areas.

That trend has also led to regular public schools being regarded as less desirable.

“Public high schools comprise 71.5 percent of all high schools [in terms of student population], but are being discriminated against in the student selection process,” said Education Minister Seo Nam-soo. “According to their founding philosophy, autonomous private high schools are for diversifying and specializing education, but some are only focusing on admissions.”

Seo added, “Through policy reform, the hierarchy in schools has to be abolished; a variety of high schools should coexist.”

Reform of the nation’s high school education system was an important issue during the presidential election campaign last year.

The ministry also said that the evaluation process for autonomous private schools will become more stringent. Schools that do not meet the stricter criteria will become regular public schools. Areas to be targeted include corrupt admissions processes, education focused on college admissions and classes that go excessively ahead of the curriculum.

The ministry will also crack down on foreign language schools and international schools running preparation classes for science colleges and medical schools, since that goes against their original purpose.

Kim Kyeong-hee, a 43-year-old mother of two kids, one in high school and one in middle school, said, “Like my first child, I planned on sending my second to an autonomous private high school, but I’m startled to suddenly hear that the selection process is going to change.”

Kim Byeong-min, the principal of Joongdong High School in Gangnam District and head of an association of autonomous school principals, said, “The reason why students and parents apply to autonomous schools is so that top-ranking students can gather and be educated according to their level, so if academic records are no longer checked for applications, who would apply?”

BY CHUN IN-SUNG, LEE HAN-GIL [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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