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Students rally to protest school status decision

July 22,2019
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Students attending autonomous private high schools in Seoul and their parents host a rally in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Sunday to protest the Seoul education office’s decision to revoke the special status of eight autonomous private high schools in the city. [JANG JIN-YOUNG]
Students from eight autonomous private high schools in Seoul that are awaiting a verdict from the Ministry of Education on whether to revoke these schools’ special status held a festival at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Sunday to appeal to the public.

“We do not agree with Cho Hee-yeon, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, who said that the autonomous private high schools merely exist to prepare students for entrance into colleges,” said Choi Seung-hoon, president of the student body at Soongmoon High School in Mapo District, western Seoul, at the square. “At Soongmoon, we take classes on philosophy, acting, physical education and computer programming which are not related at all to our respective college choices.

“We have 55 student clubs that we have created of our own accord,” he continued. “Please do not use autonomous private high schools as scapegoat to cover up for the failures and problems of regular high schools.”

The festival, hosted by the eight autonomous private high schools and attended by some 5,000 people, according to the organizers, involved rallying to protest the Seoul education office’s decision to revoke their special status, and also orchestra, choir and dance performances by the students.

“We prepared the festival today to show the current government how wrong they are about autonomous private high schools,” said Jeon Soo-ah, head of an association of parents with children attending these private high schools. “Autonomous private high schools are more than college prep schools.”

Autonomous private high schools are financially independent from the government. In return, they are granted more freedom in choosing students, developing their curriculum and tuition. They are one of many 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.

The Moon Jae-in government intends to later scrap autonomous private high schools across the nation to achieve what it describes as a more equal environment in education and competition for students.

Cho, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, had been vocal with the press about how he also intends to scrap autonomous private high schools in the city.

“Please do not experiment with educational policies while putting us at stake,” Park Jun-hyeok, head of the student body at Sehwa High School in Seocho District, southern Seoul, said at the festival in Gwanghwamun. “The decision to revoke the status of autonomous private high schools does not reflect the wishes of the students attending these schools.”

Education offices throughout the country assess autonomous private high schools 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 these guidelines.

The assessment criteria include the tuition, curriculum, teacher aptitude, the state of facilities and students’ assessments of their experiences.

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, Choong Ang High School and Hanyang University High School.

The revocation needs to be approved by the Ministry of Education before being finalized.

The Seoul education office will be conducting hearings at these eight schools starting today to hear directly from the teachers and parents about their decision, before submitting a request for the revocation of these schools’ special status to the ministry.

BY JEON MIN-HEE, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]