By Seung Eun Lee, 3rd grade student, Daewon Foreign Language High School
I am currently a third-year student at a foreign language high school. I lived abroad for 10 years since I was in kindergarten and moved back to Korea in time for the second year of middle school. As soon as I stepped foot into the world of Korean education, the main thing I noticed was the rigorously competitive environment in which everyone’s ultimate goal was to get into a prestigious college. This was due to the deep-rooted notion instilled in parents and students that unless one graduates from a reputable college, he or she will be unable to lead a successful life in society.
In November of 2019, the Korean Ministry of Education unveiled a blueprint for the future of high school education: “In 2025, independent private schools, foreign language schools and global schools,” they proclaimed, “will be turned into general schools without exception.”
Simply said, the government intends to terminate certain private high schools. The reason presented for this plan is that these private schools enforce hierarchies between schools, creating a competitive environment that promotes spending on private education and furthers the disparity between socioeconomic classes. Thus, the government wants to lessen the effect of hierarchies and inequality in education.
It is true that the relentless competition to be admitted into a distinguished college starts at a young age—as young as kindergarten—and the market of private education in Daechi-dong, an affluent neighborhood filled to the brim with cram schools and private tutoring institutes, is abnormally large. However, will this excessively competitive setting cease to exist just because certain high schools are abolished? Will everyone finally distance themselves from the private education market and enjoy equality in education?
The government’s agenda contains the following complications.
Firstly, the government claims to reduce the hierarchy among schools while keeping the science high schools in place. They assert that these schools are in line with their original establishment purposes as 90% of their students are admitted to the natural sciences and engineering areas in college. However, as long as these schools exist, the hierarchy among schools will not disappear.
Secondly, even if the government abolishes certain private schools to diminish the disparity in education among different socioeconomic classes, the private education market will prevail and like a balloon effect, a new hierarchy will be established amid the general high schools, similar to the old days when schools such as Kyunggi High School were at the top of the food chain.
Thirdly, I question how the new credit system the government is planning on enforcing will be applied to private high schools that are being turned into general schools when they can maintain their specialized curriculums, what will happen to students assigned to the old private schools that do not want to partake in the specialized curriculums, and if the government meticulously thought through the process of building a whole new infrastructure (the credit system) that undoubtedly requires a considerable amount of time and resources.
On a last note, I would like to offer my perspective as a current foreign language high school student on how I believe foreign language high schools are contributing to the diversity of education and what they are doing to cultivate global leaders. I do acknowledge the fact that foreign language high schools set a lot of their focus on increasing their college admission rates. However, the original purpose of establishment of these schools is to foster global leaders that have mastered a foreign language, and to stay true to that goal, we study more than seven hours of foreign languages a week and the majority of students receive excellent results in official exams such as DELE, DELF, and HSK. These outstanding students proficient in foreign languages can become lawyers working in a global society or diplomats participating in global politics, thus realizing the schools’ fundamental objective of nurturing global leaders.
If the Ministry of Education sincerely desires to lessen the disparity in education, they should be looking for an underlying solution. Unjustly and rampantly abolishing a part of the special-purpose high schools and claiming to enforce a credit system that gravely lacks precision is a misguided attempt at conceiving a solution.
* This column does not represent the opinion of AsiaToday.