Principals defend autonomous schools in protest

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Principals defend autonomous schools in protest

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A group of principals from 36 autonomous high schools hold a news conference yesterday at the President Hotel in Seoul to issue their opposition to local liberal education chiefs’ move to transform the elite private institutions into regular high schools. [NEWSIS]

A group of principals from the 36 of the country’s elite private educational institutions, known here as autonomous high schools, protested yesterday against joint efforts by local education chiefs to transform these schools into regular high schools, which accept students regardless of their academic background.

The heads of these autonomous private high schools held a press conference yesterday in the Hotel President, in central Seoul, during which they claimed that the newly elected liberal superintendents in their regions were attempting to “crack down on autonomous high schools.”

“The superintendents are blaming autonomous high schools for the failure of education at ordinary high schools,” they said in a joint statement. “But they are actually concerned that the more autonomy private schools have, the less influence they will wield over educational institutions and students.”

The principals argued that liberal superintendents were intentionally targeting autonomous high schools in the name of rooting out elitism in the Korean education system, while still accepting the existence of other elite high schools.

“The lapses in education at regular high schools is caused by [the presence] of other elite schools, such as science schools, foreign language high schools, Meister schools [state-run schools that focus on industrial technology training] and other special-purpose schools,” they added. “They should not make autonomous high schools the only scapegoat.”

Autonomous high schools maintain financial independence from the government and in return are granted more freedom in selecting students, creating their own curriculums and charging tuition.

Since their establishment during the Lee Myung-bak administration, however, more autonomous schools have requested that the Ministry of Education designate them instead as regular schools because they could not fill their classrooms.

According to parents and education specialists, a major reason for this crisis is that they could not send as many students on to elite universities as other elite high schools.

Liberal superintendents have argued that their curriculums also differ little from those at regular high schools, while the tuition charged is three times as much.

Yesterday’s protest followed an announcement by Cho Hee-yeon, the chief of the Seoul Education Office, on Friday, when he stated that he will begin to shut down some of the autonomous high schools in the capital starting in 2016.

Cho said at the time that he will announce in October which schools will start operating as regular high schools.

There are 49 autonomous high schools nationwide, with 25 in Seoul.

Fourteen of those 25 are scheduled to be audited this year to confirm their re-approval for the next five years.

Other local education chiefs have yet to make similar announcements, though they are expected to follow Cho’s lead.

Cho is among 13 liberal superintendents who were elected in the June polls.

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




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