Public responds to abolishment of Korean elite schools


On Nov. 7, the Korean Ministry of Education announced that private elite schools,
such as foreign language and autonomous high schools, will be phased out nationwide
by 2025, confirming a change that the government had been warning about since late
July. In fact, the intent to abolish special private schools had been obvious ever since
President Moon Jae-In’s election campaign promises in 2017. With the growing
inequality in education, Moon has increasingly garnered support for his policy.
Supporters argue that by becoming determinants for college entrance, these elite
private schools have exacerbated the already egregious socioeconomic disparity in
Korea. However, after the removal was confirmed, the policy has been met with both
fierce backlash and strong approval.
“Abolishing these schools makes a lot of sense,” said Angela Lee (12), Government
and Politics student. “They have strayed away from their original purpose of
providing quality education to only educating students who are more qualified. In the
public’s eye, these schools have turned into convenient gateways to enter prestigious
universities. Competition has become cutthroat both to enter these schools and even
after students enroll. And despite laws restricting corruption, bribery still remains
rampant in these schools. I’ve heard from my friend who goes to a foreign language
school that bribing teachers to write excellent letters of recommendations is very
Autonomous schools have tuition fees that are reportedly 9.2 times more expensive
than local public schools, according to Hankook Ilbo. Foreign language schools only
take applicants’ middle school English grades into consideration when reviewing
applications; families that can afford private academy fees, therefore, have a
comparative edge in enrollment. However, some people remain skeptical about
whether abolishing these elite schools will ever eradicate the root cause of inequality
in education.
“Unilaterally abolishing these schools causes huge problems that the government
cannot successfully deal with,” said Edward Lee (11), AP History student. “The
policy won’t get rid of socioeconomic disparities. Wealthy families would just move
into the neighborhoods with more educational opportunities, where there are schools
that have sent their students into more prestigious universities and renowned private
academies. Moreover, science schools have been exempted from this policy. Conflict
and confusion will persist over this legislation, due to its abrupt enforcement and its
exclusion of other special-purpose schools.”
While the public’s mixed feelings about this legislation have intensified, some people
believe that the decision to abolish elite private schools can push for significant
changes that can benefit Korean high schools in general. From 2025, a new credit
system will be in place in these schools, under which students can select which subjects they are interested in studying and design their own education curriculum.
This new implementation departs from the standardized education that has been
entrenched in Korea, which is primarily aimed at entering college.
“I think this is a meaningful transition that the government is making,” said Ji Min
Kim, Swimming Coach. “Although I do worry that problems will persist, I think
change is necessary to the current system. As the ministry of education is pushing for
school curriculums to be more closely tailored to each student’s individual interests, I
hope this policy works for the better in creating a dynamic setting for high school
students to study in.”