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A strange education experiment

July 23,2019
HA HYUN-OCK
The author is the head of the financial news team at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Daejeondong Dads refers to the fathers who are renting their homes in Daechi-dong, southern Seoul, for education opportunities for their children. The National Institute of Korean Language’s report on 2012’s basic new words includes the newly coined phrase. In fact, Daejeondong or the Daejeon generation — the generation renting their homes in Daechi-dong to offer their children better opportunities for education — has been used by the media and people from the early and mid-2000s.

The main cause for the acceleration of the Daejeon generation was the abolishment of high school non-standardization in capital regions like Bundang and Ilsan, both in Gyeonggi, in 2001. As non-standardized high schools that diverted demands for better educational environments were no longer available, overzealous parents devoted to their kids’ education flocked to the so-called District 8 in Gangnam, southern Seoul, boosting housing prices. According to the housing price trend report by KB Real Estate, the housing selling price index in the Gangnam region rose by 20.4 percent in the two years after 2001.

And it seems a repeat of the trends following the abolishment of non-standardization is likely to happen soon with the Seoul Metropolitan Board of Education cancelling the re-designation of eight autonomous high schools in Seoul. Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon advocated public discussion on the abolishment of elite schools such as autonomous high schools and foreign language schools. He explained that the policy effectiveness has expired as these schools only serve as cram schools for college admission. Cho’s two sons graduated from foreign language high schools.

One of the arguments for attacking autonomous high schools is that they help solidify the ranking of high schools. Basically, opponents say that under such system, high schools are ranked based on their academic performances. It is true that academic grades cannot be the sole standard, but I wonder if academic ability is not talent? Why can’t ranking be applied to schools when people find it natural to make such ranks in a society of too many auditions?

Systems change and times change. But overzealous mothers feel the same. They are ready to pack up and move to a famous district for a better school. Six of the eight schools which failed to be re-designated as autonomous schools are located in Gangbuk District, northern Seoul. With these options gone, will these overzealous mothers join the people leaving Gangbuk or become the new Daejeon generation?

JoongAng Ilbo, July 22, Page 31