Deregulate private schools

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Deregulate private schools


Hong Sa-geon
The author is the chairman of the board of directors of Hanvit School Foundation (Daejeon Hanvit High School) and an advisor to Reset Korea, a JoongAng Ilbo, campaign.

As founder and operator of a private school, I feel extremely frustrated to see our society’s cold views toward private schools and our schools’ tough financial situations. Because private schools are a pillar of education for the next century, I understand society’s demand for strong responsibilities. However, without proper efforts to understand the structural limits of the law and the essence of private schools, many base their perceptions on a few negative cases and criticize the entire system. This is throwing cold water on efforts to educate and contribute to national advancement.

Since the late 19th century, our private schools have been the driving force behind national advancement through educational developments. During the enlightenment period, they were the hub of introducing Western civilization. During the Japanese colonial period, they maintained the national spirit and played a key role in fostering an anti-Japan independence movement. Following liberation, those with strong beliefs in education contributed their private wealth to establish schools, as the government was unable to pay for the expanding education demands with the state budget. As the country grew stronger, public schools increased. Nevertheless, 19.8 percent of middle schools, 40.1 percent of high schools and 81.7 percent of universities still remain private schools.

Private schools, established to realize their own mottos, flexibly responded to changed educational environments and the need to cultivate creative education for students — a big difference from public schools. In most countries, recognizing the private school system means accepting the freedom of running them. The right to select teachers and students, as well as create and manage an educational curriculum, will allow freedom in running a private school. Through this freedom, private schools can realize their foundation mottos and fulfill people’s rights to educational diversity.

Yet private schools have lost their autonomy and specialty under the regulation and control of the government. They are following in the footsteps of public schools. Without coordination and consultation with private schools, the government pushed for mandatory middle school education and standardization of high schools. That was the turning point of losing the true character of private schools. Since then, the government deprived private schools’ right to decide their tuition and began offering subsidies to argue for the public nature of the school system. Now, it is pushing for more regulation.

Regulations should be limited to the minimum to secure the publicness of education in private schools. The government forced private schools to hand over their rights to recruit teachers to the regional education offices, citing employment corruption.

Statutory allocation of funds, in particular, is a factor that helps spread negative perceptions toward private schools. The government introduced the term — statutory allocation — to force school foundations to pay for pensions and insurance policies for teachers at private schools. As most of the programs did not exist when private schools were first established, they became additional burdens. The government resorted to the statutory allocation system to regulate private schools.

Public schools pay the statutory allocation funds from their operational expenses. The government must allow private schools to use their operational expenses instead of forcing their foundations to solely pay for it: that is reasonable.

I am not denying the public function of private schools in national education or the government’s supervision of their management. Schools that committed corruption must be sternly punished.

But the autonomy of private schools must not be deprived under the justification of publicness. Amplifying a few cases to generalize that all private schools are corrupt should be stopped. Unavoidable problems prompted by legal and systemic flaws must not be treated as corruption.

Many believe the heads of private school boards are extremely powerful and rich. But many don’t even receive salaries, expenses or health insurance benefits. They are performing the jobs only based on a sense of responsibility. Now is the time to accurately grasp the reality of private schools and seriously think about the proper treatment of their founders and board chairmen.

In countries leading the fourth industrial revolution, public schools are increasingly being transformed into private schools. The autonomy of public schools is also expanding. Therefore, we need a fundamental change of our thinking toward the current system that private schools are regulated under the jurisdiction of education offices. Private schools must restore their true autonomy to lead public education.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 18, Page 27
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