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Moon’s education proposal faces backlash

Blue House doing damage control on idea for admissions
Oct 25,2019
The Blue House on Wednesday tried to calm the growing backlash following President Moon Jae-in’s abrupt proposal to require universities to select more applicants sorely based on their standardized test scores.

A nationwide confusion was triggered after Moon said Tuesday he will overhaul the college admissions system to improve fairness. The change, announced abruptly and briefly during his speech at the National Assembly, split public reactions.

“What is most heartbreaking to the people is unfairness in education,” Moon said. “The government will thoroughly conduct the recently launched comprehensive fact-finding investigation into the screening of students’ academic and non-academic records for college admissions, including extra-curricular activities, and seek ways to resolve the phenomenon of ranking high schools by their placement records. The government will also come up with a plan to reorganize the college entrance system, including raising the portion of students who are accepted solely on the basis of their College Scholastic Ability Test [CSAT] scores.”

The proposal was in response to the growing public rage toward the rare opportunities for internships and extracurricular activities that only children of the power elites have enjoyed. Such opportunities often helped them to gain admissions to top universities, which selected some students through the early admission system, which is not based on CSAT scores. A recent admissions fraud scandal involving Cho Min, daughter of Moon’s key ally Cho Kuk, laid bare the practice, forcing him to step down as justice minister.

The ruling Democratic Party said Tuesday that universities must select over 50 percent of their students based on CSAT scores.

The Education Ministry said it will collect public opinion and announce a plan next month.

Although the ministry said it is consulting with the ruling party and the Blue House to increase the college admissions quota for regular admission students selected based on CSAT scores, it appeared to be kept in the dark. Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye has repeatedly said there is no plan to increase the number of students selected based on CSAT scores.

Her latest remark came at a parliamentary audit on Monday, just one day before Moon’s speech. Yoo said the ministry will pay attention to improve transparency in the early admissions system, instead of expanding the CSAT score-based regular admissions quota.

If the change is introduced, the new rules will be applied starting 2022, when high school students who are currently in their first year will apply for college.

The education community was split. While some supported the idea, the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union issued a statement to protest the change.

It said the early admissions system based on high school performances has slowly restored the confidence in public education, but the change will destroy it again, expressing concern that students will rush to private test prep institutions.

Parents also complained that the change was announced too abruptly.

The Blue House said Wednesday no final decision has been made on the specifics.

Asked if the government will require universities to select more than 50 percent of the students based on CSAT scores, just like the ruling party proposed, a senior Blue House official said nothing has been decided.

“I cannot give you a single number,” the official said. “We also need to modify the school performance-based early admissions system. We have to discuss how far we will change the system to avoid confusion. I can only say more discussions will have to follow.”

Moon will host a meeting of related ministers at the Blue House on Friday. It is the first time that a ministerial meeting is being arranged to solely address education issues.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]