Government-run innovative schools to multiply

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Government-run innovative schools to multiply

With 13 progressive superintendent candidates voted in during the June 4 local elections, the number of state-run innovative schools is set to increase nationwide.

At a briefing held May 19 at the Seoul Press Center in central Seoul, the newly elected education chiefs pledged to boost the number of innovative schools during their term.

Former Gyeonggi education superintendent Kim Sang-gon introduced the idea of innovative schools to Korea in 2009, with the goal of bolstering teachers’ autonomy. Innovative schools differ from normal state-run schools in that they have more freedom to design and implement their own curriculums.

There are 578 innovative schools currently in operation in Seoul, Gyeonggi, Gwangju, North Jeolla, South Jeolla and Gangwon - cities and provinces where liberal superintendents ruled.

Cho Hi-yeon, the new Seoul education chief, has promised to increase the number of innovative schools by 200, and Lee Jae-joung, Gyeonggi’s latest head of education, said he plans to open another 1,000. The superintendents of Incheon, North and South Chungcheong, Busan, South Gyeongsang and Jeju also said they would launch an innovative school system.

In total, innovative schools will number 1,700 in four years.

Students at Gangmyeong Elementary School in Seoul have an 80-minute “active class” every morning. Younger students sing and dance to music and play games with friends, while older students do yoga or take ballet.

“My child learned the concept of fractions through a fairy tale,” said Lee Yeong-mi, the mother of a Gangmyeong Elementary School student. “Compared with the education he had in the United States before moving to Korea, I find no big difference in the quality of schooling.”

Some innovative schools like Gangmyeong Elementary School have various and distinct programs.

But not all these schools are as satisfactory as Gangmyeong. And though a higher number of innovative schools have been promised by the new superintendents, the quality of these institutes has not been guaranteed.

According to research by the JoongAng Ilbo, there are clear differences between many innovative schools, and in many cases, the passion of teachers is the most significant key to the success of an innovative school.

Teachers, who had more than 10 years’ experience, studied Gangmyeong Elementary School curriculum for six months before the school opened, enhancing the quality of the school.

Teachers at Hopyeong Middle School in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, hold weekly open classes giving opportunities for educators to sit in on colleagues’ classes. Teachers observe students’ attitudes and concentration levels, which are then reflected in changes to the school’s curriculum.

But in contrast with these successful cases, there are failures.

“Our school was forced to change into an innovative school by former superintendent Kwak No-hyun,” said the principal of a three-year-old innovative elementary school in Gangbuk, Seoul.

“Teachers aren’t even trying to improve their situations and parents are not responding positively.”

The popularity of one high school lessened after it was designated as an innovative school four years ago. The zeal for children’s education in the area was high, but the university entrance results of the students were lower after the designation.

“It is an innovative school that receives an annual additional 100 million won [$97,500] from the government, but it is referred to as a ‘delinquent school,’?” said Jeon, a 49-year-old mother who lives nearby. “I am never going to send my daughter to that high school.”

Seoul needs 17.3 billion won annually to give between 100 million and 150 million won to each innovative school, according to Cho’s election pledge.

Ha, a mother of a middle-school student who attends an innovative high school in Goyang, Gyeonggi, said her son is having extra private lessons at home for math and English because the school curriculum is completely different from the university entrance exam’s contents.

“The academic atmosphere of my son’s school is very weak,” Ha said. “I don’t want to send him to an innovative high school.”

“There are some innovative schools that wishes to cancel the designation,” said a principal of an elementary school in Seoul. “Increasing the number without considering the quality will lead to an overall downgrade of innovative schools.”


BY SHIN JIN, JO SOO-MIN [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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