Concerns arise over Sewol ‘benefits’

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Concerns arise over Sewol ‘benefits’

Criticism has mounted over the National Assembly’s decision to offer special consideration to college-bound students at Danwon High School who had to endure the loss of hundreds of their peers in the April 16 Sewol ferry disaster when they apply to universities this year.

Lawmakers on the assembly’s education committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow local universities to accept 12th-graders from Danwon High School through an exclusive admission system that would give special consideration to them.

Most the 294 passengers who died on the ship were their 11th-grade schoolmates, who were on a class trip to Jeju Island when the vessel began to violently list and then capsized.

The new law would also let local universities set a quota for such students - within 1 percent of their regular freshmen quotas.

The assemblymen assumed that the applicants eligible for the special admission would include the approximately 500 12th-graders at the high school - who will take the nation’s College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) this November - including those who are related to deceased.

The law was intended to take into consideration the trauma and stress that the 12th-grade students suffered in the wake of the ferry disaster in April, just a few months before the nation’s most anticipated college entrance exam.

According to the government, of the 325 students onboard the Sewol ferry the day of the accident, only 75 survived. Two of the 11 teachers accompanying them also survived.

Although the bill is approved by the committee, it still must be passed at a plenary session by lawmakers. It is currently pending in the assembly.

But some critics have argued that the bill offers too much compensation and is unfair to other students.

Ha Tae-keung, a ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker, said in a statement yesterday that the bill gives “excessive benefits” to the 12th-grade students. He added that even if the benefits were given, the 11th-graders should be on the receiving end, not the 12th-graders.

“It is an inappropriate decision to offer special admission benefits to the [12th-graders], not the [11th-graders], who were the victims of the sinking,” he said. “In Korea, a country with such tough competition over the CSAT, it would only create new conflicts and make others feel discriminated against if we extend the benefits to the [12th-graders].”

The families of the victims have not released an official statement on the issue yet.

Some students who survived the accident said what they really want was to figure out the “truth” surrounding the cause of the accident, and that they were not concerned with receiving college benefits.

According to letters from the surviving students to the National Assembly, which the families released to media, one student said, “What we want is to investigate the truth, not special admission!”

Another student added, “We are doing this not for special admission, but to console the souls of our dead friends and figure out the truth.”

Yu Gyeong-geun, a spokesman for the families of the students, said in a radio interview on Tuesday that no matter how much compensation “we would receive, it would be meaningless for us if the investigation into the truth is not realized.”

A joint rescue team, formed with divers from the military, the government and some civilian groups, recovered one more body yesterday from the sunken ferry - 24 days after they found the last. A DNA test is necessary to identify the body, which has been trapped in the ferry for months, but police assume it could be a female cook from the kitchen on the third deck.

Of the 476 passengers, 10 remain missing, five of whom are students, and 294 are confirmed to have died.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]





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