Private school heads fight reforms

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Private school heads fight reforms

Principals of autonomous private high schools yesterday raised their voices in opposition to the government’s decision to allow all students to apply to the schools regardless of their grades.

The Ministry of Education explained that the idea is to prevent the best students from flocking to the self-governing schools in droves, a trend the ministry says undermines the competitiveness of public schools.

“The government says that its overhaul, introduced on Aug. 13, is meant to restore the declining status of public schools, but it will only devastate all autonomous schools,” a statement issued by the principals’ association said. “We tried to work with the government on ways to improve the autonomous high school system, but it didn’t respond to our calls and is now just trying to turn the system upside down.”

Currently, only students whose middle school marks are in the top 50 percent can apply for such schools. But under the new plan, which kicks in 2015, students will be able to apply to 39 autonomous high schools in designated regions, including Seoul and Daegu, regardless of their academic achievements.

Autonomous high schools maintain financial independence and in return are granted more freedom in picking students, creating their curriculum and charging tuition. They’re known for offering an atmosphere conducive to high academic achievement but are criticized for being elitist as they charge exorbitantly high fees.

Many education experts see the recent overhaul as a response to just that criticism. But the principals maintain that the measures go too far.

“[The government] should maintain the right of students and parents to choose, and at the same time should respect the schools’ right to choose students,” the association said.

The association also held a discussion session yesterday at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul to mobilize principals in countering the government’s move. School heads from all 39 affected autonomous high schools attended the event.

“The culprit behind the decline of public education is not autonomous high schools,” said Kim Yong-bok, the principal of Paichai High School in eastern Seoul.

“Public education sector has been losing ground for a long time. So it’s nonsense to point to autonomous high schools that were introduced in 2009,” Kim said.

Another participant brought up the broader problem of frequent education system reforms with changes in government. “It’s inappropriate to shift education policy as the administration changes,” said Kim Bok-kyu, the head of Chugang High School in Gunsan, North Jeolla. “I wish the system were kept in place regardless of changes in government,” he said.

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