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Seoul revokes status of 8 autonomous schools

July 10,2019
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Members of conservative civic groups protest in front of the Seoul Metropolitan Education Office on Tuesday. [NEWS1]
Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education revoked the special status of eight of the city’s autonomous private high schools on Tuesday.

“The relevant committees assessed 13 autonomous private high schools in the city and found eight of them to have failed the standards for autonomous private high schools,” said Park Keon-ho, head of the educational management bureau of Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, in a press conference at the office in central Seoul on Tuesday. “We will begin the process of revoking the status.”

The revocation decision needs to be approved by the Ministry of Education before it becomes final.

Autonomous private high schools are financially independent from the government. In return, they are granted more freedom in picking students, developing their curriculums and charging tuition.

Education offices throughout the country assess autonomous private high schools across the country every five years to determine whether they can maintain their autonomous private status.

In order for autonomous private high schools to maintain their status, schools must score a minimum of 70 points out of 100 in their assessment by local education offices. The assessment follows guidelines provided by the Ministry of Education, and local education offices can choose to follow or alter the guidelines.

The assessment criteria include the affordability of tuition, curriculum content, teacher aptitude, the state of facilities and students’ assessments of their experiences. Of the 22 autonomous private high schools in Seoul, 13 were assessed this time.

The eight schools that failed the assessment by the Seoul education office were Kyunghee High School, Paichai High School, Sehwa High School, Soongmoon High School, Shinil High School, Ewha Womans University High School, Choongang High School and Hanyang University High School. The five high schools that maintained their autonomous private status were Dongsung High School, Ewha Girls’ High School, Joongdong High School, Hangaram High School and Hana High School.

“The eight schools were assessed to have not made as strong an effort to keep up the standards of autonomous private schools,” Park said.

Park denied that the decision was part of a larger movement by the progressive Moon Jae-in government to scrap autonomous private high schools across the nation to achieve what it describes as equality for all students in education and competition.

“This was just part of a five-year cycle assessment,” Park said. “The city education office will continue to support the autonomous private high schools so that they do not operate merely as private schools that prepare students for enrollment at top universities but as schools that provide a more varied curriculum and education.”

Just last month, Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said she plans on eliminating Korea’s autonomous private high schools on the grounds that they create an excessively competitive educational environment. Autonomous private high schools are one of the options for private high schools in Korea, which include international schools, specialized foreign language high schools and science and technology high schools.

These private high schools are often perceived as a more competitive option than regular high schools for students who wish to attend top universities in Seoul. According to a study by educational civic group No Worry 21, of the top 10 percent of graduates of middle schools in Seoul last year, 44.4 percent chose to attend international high schools and foreign language high schools, 18.5 percent chose to go to autonomous private high schools, while 8.5 percent went to regular high schools. Progressive civic groups welcomed the decision by the Seoul education office.

“The government must continue to keep its promise to scrap autonomous private high schools,” the Korea Teachers and Education Workers Union said in a written statement on Tuesday. “These autonomous private high schools have only added to the unhealthy, socioeconomic hierarchy in education.”

“The law must be changed so that all autonomous private high schools become regular high schools,” said Good Teacher, an association of Christian teachers based in Seoul, in a statement on Tuesday. “The five autonomous private high schools that maintained their status should also be transformed into regular high schools after five years.”

The announcement by the Seoul education office Tuesday followed decisions by other local education offices that revoked the autonomous status of some of these private high schools in their areas. The Busan Metropolitan City Office of Education announced last month that it plans to revoke the autonomous status of Haeundae High School, the only autonomous private high school in the city. Sangsan High School in Jeonju, North Jeolla, also failed to pass the local education office’s test last month.

BY JEON MIN-HEE, PARK HYUNG-SU [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]