SEOUL, Jul. 9 (Korea Bizwire) — The Seoul education office decided Tuesday to cancel licenses for eight out of 13 “autonomous private high schools” in Seoul, as the education authorities and the government push for scrapping the privileged category of schools and bringing equality to public education.
The cancellation came after the eight high schools — Kyunghee, Paichai, Sewha, Soongmoon, Shinil, Choongang and two high schools affiliated with Ewha Womans University and Hanyang University, respectively — failed to reach the achievement standard of 70 in a performance test administrated by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.
Such schools must pass the test every five years in order to have their status extended.
Currently 42 autonomous private high schools are up and running across the country, and 24 schools, including the 13 in the capital, were undergoing evaluations this year.
Out of the eight schools that failed the test, the five comprising Kyunghee, Paichai, Sewha, Choongang and Ewha Womans University high schools were able to keep their status in 2014 after the education ministry under the then-conservative administration overruled a decision by the Seoul education office to remove them from the system.
Soongmoon and Shinil high schools were put back into the system in a 2016 reappraisal of such schools.
The cancellation of the licenses, for which the education office needs to get approval from the education minister, means they are to lose their special status that has guaranteed far greater autonomy in admissions, financing and curriculum than regular establishments and must turn themselves into regular high schools.
Tuesday’s decision by the Seoul education office brought to 11 the number of elite schools that have lost the autonomous private high school status, albeit pending a final decision to be made by Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye.
Last month, Sangsan High School in the southwestern city of Jeonju, Ansan Dongsan High School near Seoul and Haeundae High School in the southeastern coastal city of Busan were notified by their respective education offices that they will not renew the autonomous school licenses.
Chances are not high that the education minister will disagree with the local education authorities’ decisions, given that President Moon Jae-in promised to scrap the privileged category of schools during his election campaign in 2017 and that the cancellation of the elite schools’ licenses are one of the Moon government’s top educational policy priorities.
Critics say the operation of such elite high schools could deepen inequality, stratifying schools and undermining efforts to improve the quality of overall education.
The autonomous private high school system was first introduced in 2002 as a pilot program with six schools, including Sangsan.
It was formally adopted and drastically expanded in 2009, when the then-conservative Lee Myung-bak government pushed a major educational overhaul to salvage public education.
A coalition of autonomous private high schools in Seoul issued a statement over the announcement of the results, claiming that “the education office has patched together an evaluation against us” and vowing to seek a public audit over the entire process of the evaluation and file a lawsuit against the office.
In the statement, the coalition of bodies involving heads of the schools, their students’ parents and alumni and civic groups supporting them said the evaluation, which lacks validity and reliability, should be null and void as it is anti-educational, above the law and unfair.
Progressive educational bodies that have called for the complete abolishment of the system showed discontent over only eight schools being displaced from the system, demanding the educational authorities implement the promise to scrap the system and conduct a law revision aimed at canceling licenses for autonomous private high schools collectively.
The Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union, a progressive umbrella union of teachers, said in a statement, “The Seoul education office gave artificial respiration by performing a poor evaluation to extend the life of autonomous private high schools.”
The union asked Seoul superintendent Cho Hee-yon, who has a long history of campaigning against the elite schools, whether the results of the evaluation conform to what he has said — “The zeitgeist demands the cancellation of autonomous private high schools.”
The Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, issued a statement regarding the announcement, saying the controversy over autonomous private high schools originates from the swaying of the entire high school system based on ideological tendencies of the government and education chiefs.
“The controversy over the autonomous private high schools cannot but persist if the direction of the entire high school system is influenced by a particular political ideology and schools are made or closed due to a change in the government and education chiefs,” the union said.