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[Newsmaker] International middle schools in Seoul may lose special status

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

Seoul’s two elite middle schools may lose their autonomy next year, as the city’s education office decided Wednesday to cancel their licenses.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education announced the decision to revoke licenses of Daewon International Middle School and Younghoon International Middle School, saying they stratify schools, deepen inequality and promote private education.

The decision is not final, as it is subject to the approval of the Education Ministry, which will notify its stance within 50 days.

“International middle schools are undermining fundamental values of education, including equal opportunities for education, and are promoting private education as they are perceived as (a part of a) hierarchical school system,” Seoul’s education chief Cho Hee-yeon said at a press briefing Wednesday.

Should the ministry approve the cancellation of licenses, the schools would lose their status as“international middle school” -- which gives them more leeway in what and how they teach students -- and convert into regular schools gradually, starting next year.

The two institutions failed to meet requirements for the extension of the status, SMOE said. Above all, they did not make sufficient efforts to foster global talent, defying the very own purpose of the schools, it added.

The schools expressed their intention to file a lawsuit to invalidate it.

International middle schools were established with the purpose of nurturing a global workforce in Korea and prevent students from studying abroad from an early age. Most classes in the schools are conducted in English.

But there has been criticism that the elite schools play a role in widening the disparity in education between the haves and have-nots.

The special schools have largely been dominated by children of wealthy parents, as they on average charge about 11 million won ($9,220) annually in tuition fees as of 2017, according to government data released in October.

In Korean society, where a college degree is a major factor in determining one’s future ranging from employment to marriage prospects, the international schools have been considered as a key means to enter prestigious universities, leading students to rely on private education and enter excessive competition for entry into the schools from a young age.

Currently, there are five such schools across the country -- the two in Seoul, Cheongshim International Academy in Gyeonggi Province, Sunin Gukje Middle School in South Gyeongsang Province and Busan International Middle School.

Two other schools, aside from the newly opened Sunin Gukke Middle School, will face a review by regional education offices for the extension of their licenses this year, which is conducted every five years.

In line with the liberal Moon Jae-in administration’s educational reforms, elite high schools including independent private schools, foreign-language schools and global schools across the country will also be abolished from March 2025.

Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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