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A private school founder’s frustration

Posted June. 20, 2017 07:15,   

Updated June. 20, 2017 07:30


As the Moon Jae-in administration intends to abolish independent private high schools and foreign language high schools, Hong Sung-dae, the owner of Sangsan High School, deplored on Sunday, saying, “The administration seems to think private schools are in its pocket.” He added, “I don’t want to run a private school in this country.” He said in an interview with the Dong-A Ilbo, “Competition and private education are getting more intense because you cannot become (economically) independent unless you graduate college in this country. Why does the administration attribute the social problem, which it cannot solve to independent private schools?” The author of the bestselling math book “The Art of Mathematics” has used all of his wealth that he accumulated since 2003 - 43.9 billion won (38.7 million U.S. dollars) – to foster talent but his efforts are about to become nothing.


Hong expressed his frustration about the administration, which blames independent private schools for excessive private education. He asks why it takes issue with the acceptance rate to prestigious universities, which is the result of the hard work of schools and their students, let alone not giving them discretion to select good students at their disposal. If elite schools such as independent private schools disappear, the social marginalized – poor but smart students – will lose an opportunity to access good education. Poor students will no longer grab a chance to climb up the social ladder. Hong said that he will leave the dormitory, which will become useless if it turns into an ordinary high school, “empty.” He intends to use the dorm as a symbol of policy failure by those who underestimate the importance of a long-term plan in education and want to change education policy overnight


In response to the move by the administration, a backlash from teachers and parents is also growing. The association of parents of independent private schools plan to issue a statement opposing the government plan and organize a demonstration and the council of principals of independent private schools in Korea will also release a statement to express opposition. Ironically, many leaders of this administration sent their children to elite schools. There is criticism over their fallacy of the “false uniqueness.”


The administration claims removing elite high schools is the solution to bringing public education back to normal. However, it is doubtful whether defining elite schools as the enemy of ordinary schools can address the crisis of ordinary schools and eliminate the pecking order of high schools. If foreign language high schools and independent private high schools are removed, students who want better education will flock to a few selected school districts in affluent Gangnam and science high schools, another group of elite schools, which will lead to another competition for college admission. Teachers should change for a reform in education. As long as teachers are safe under the strong protection of the teacher’s union, the removal of elite schools would not increase competitiveness in education and bring back trust in public education.

The administration stresses equal education as represented by policies including an absolute eval‎uation in academic records and the Korean SAT and no standardized eval‎uation of academic performance. The U.S. ranks 22,000 public high schools based on their students’ academic performance and college admission rates every year while Korea considers competition is a sin and education is being standardized downwards. Korea’s future depends on the education reform led by the Moon administration. It should remember that it is the obligation of the government to create a level playing field instead of making competition meaningless by forcing conformity.