Another blow to superintendentsA ruling from the Seoul Administrative Court overturned the revocation by the Seoul Metropolitan Education Office on the special autonomous schooling license for Sehwa High School and Pai Chai High School. The court has delivered another blow to education authorities after Haeundae High School in Busan won a lawsuit against the local education office for taking away its license to operate independently.
The push by progressive education superintendents backed by the liberal government to scrap elite schooling has hit a snag. The education offices under liberal chiefs sought to phase-out autonomous schools by rejecting the renewal of licenses through a toughening or tweaking of the criteria for review. Even the education ministry protested the excessiveness in disqualifying the highly reputable Sangsan High School in North Jeolla. The education office arbitrarily included a quota of students from poor families. The campaign to kill elite schools through unjust means is being stopped in the courts.
The discrepancies in schooling should be addressed. But a unilateral push to wipe out elite schools cannot help social migration or give hope to the poorer class. Many warned that without autonomous schools, which accept students based on performance, inequalities could worsen for students in northern Seoul lacking quality schools compared to southern Seoul. Six out of eight autonomous schools whose licenses were revoked are based in northern Seoul.
The education reform under the Moon Jae-in administration has become uncertain through the series of rulings. Its plan to upgrade public schooling through the adoption of course choices from 2025 while abolishing elite entities like autonomous schools and international language schools faces challenges.
Cho Hee-yeon, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, criticized the ruling by the court as a “retreat to the normalization of secondary education.” Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae vowed to press ahead with the abolition of elite schools after the first ruling in December. But her policy will lose steam if the lawsuits in higher courts also fall in favor of the schools. Given little time left for the incumbent government, it must work with schools and parents to find areas of improvement and offer greater education opportunities for the poorer class.
More prudence must be given to the government’s education policy.