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A dangerous path

July 20,2019
Some progressive education superintendents are accused of abusing their authority in order to meet their ideological goals rather than their students’ interests. North Jeolla Education Office Superintendent Kim Seung-hwan revoked the license for an autonomous institution for Sangsan High School — the most prestigious school in the province — by applying tougher standards to it than in other regions. The school was disqualified after missing a mere 0.39 points in its annual eligibility test. Seoul Education Office superintendent Cho Hee-yeon is spearheading a crusade to eliminate autonomous schools or other elite schools to uphold President Moon Jae-in’s campaign promise to ensure more equality in high school education.

Announcing an outline to convert autonomous high schools to general schools on Thursday, Cho proposed to simplify secondary schooling by eliminating elite schools. He proposes a revision in the law to simply ban autonomous schools — including private schools — running their own curriculum.

Progressive education chiefs under encouragement from the Moon administration have been calling for the elimination of elite schools in the belief that they exacerbate imbalances in education and fuel competition to enter top universities. It is true that many schools — including Sangsan, famous for sending their students to medical schools — have turned into gateways for prestigious universities. Because of heavy competition, smart students prefer autonomous schools over the general schools in their neighborhoods.

But the elite schools cannot be blamed for the weakening of public high school standards. Liberal education heads scrapped state-administered exams for public schools to ease pressure on students. As a result, education standards have significantly deteriorated in those schools to the extent that one out of 10 middle and high school students failed math aptitude tests.

Public schools will not suddenly improve after the elimination of elite schools. Restricting choice is not the best means to a better education for all.

Education policy has been guided by political factors rather than the interests of students. As a result, the competitiveness of our education has fallen. Even as the number of students rapidly falls due to the country’s low birth rate, the government is placing extra elementary school teachers in middle and high schools. Instead of being obsessed with elite schools, superintendents must give some serious thought to the future of education for the sake of students and parents.

JoongAng Sunday, July 20-21, Page 30