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More High School Choices By 2010?

Posted December. 08, 2006 08:36,   


By 2010, when today’s sixth graders become high schoolers, they might be able to apply for any high school they want, regardless their place of residence.

This new policy is expected to trigger substantial changes because it restores a student’s right to choose his or her school, which has been denied since 1974 with the “equalization of high schools education policy.”

On December 7 at the Seoul Education Training Institute (Bangbae-dong, Seocho-gu), the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education opened a “public hearing on the new policy plan” and announced a new scheme which enables middle school students in Seoul to apply to any high school within the metropolitan area starting from 2010.

Expanding Options-

According to the new scheme, middle school students about to graduate will be able to apply for their preferred high schools. They will be allowed to apply for two schools in a ‘unitary school group’ which covers the whole area of Seoul, and for another two in their ‘general school group’ which covers their residential area like in the current system.

Drawings will be held to select 30% of each school’s quota from the ‘unitary school groups’ and then 40% from the ‘general school groups.’ The remaining 30% will be for those who didn’t get a school in the first two lots. They will then be arranged into one of the 19 ‘integrated school groups,’ which is a combination of two school groups close to where students live, and then will go through a draw again, with transportation conditions and commuting distance taken into consideration.

As an exception, however, the ‘central school group,’ which consists of 37 schools located in Yongsan-gu or within a 5km radius of the city’s center, should select 60% of their quota from voluntary applicants. This is to prevent these schools from running short of students since there are few residential areas in the downtown district.

In a vein similar to this day’s public hearing, SMOE will conduct a survey on teachers and parents with sixth-grade children to collect their opinions. The scheme is expected to be concluded by February next year.

Remedying Shortcomings of the Equalization Policy-

School options are to expand dramatically in that students will be able to apply to any high school no matter where they live. It will partially make up for the biggest defect of the “equalization policy,” which has assigned students to schools regardless of their preferences, only taking their distance from residence and transportation conditions into consideration.

With the exception of Seoul, 12 local governments guarantee their students’ right to select their schools through an ‘apply-first-then-draw’ system. Busan offers students two chances. Students can apply for one in the unitary school group, which is the entire city, and one in the general school group where they dwell in. 45% of school quotas are chosen by this measure. Those who fail in the draw at this stage have a school assigned to them by the local educational office, with their location of residence and distance to school considered. In the case of Daegu, 40% of each school’s quota is chosen from voluntary applicants who can apply for four schools within their general school group. The rest are subject to a draw in consideration of their commute distance to school.

Not a Fundamental Solution-

Park Bu-gwon, a professor at Dongguk University who is in charge of the policy research, has run a simulation of this system. The results tell that despite the changes, most of the students still want to attend to a high school close to their homes. Among the 7,357 students (7%) who moved beyond the boundaries of their general school group to apply for schools in the Gangnam district, only 2,200 (29.9%) were accepted.

In addition, schools in ‘integrated school groups’ could be too far for students and they might complain in case they are assigned to a school group not preferred. For instance, students can cross-apply from other school groups to Gangnam, but on the other hand, students who reside in Seocho-gu (located in Gangnam) could be assigned to a school in Dongjak-gu or Gwanak-gu, against their favors. The research team refused to reveal sensitive data such as how many students who live in popular school groups like Gangnam would be pushed out of their group.

Critics point out that this policy can’t be a fundamental solution to problems of the “equalization policy” in that it only offers new chances to apply in popular school groups instead of expanding the variation of specialized high schools such as science highs, foreign language highs and international highs.

Others argue that this could undermine the foundations of the “equalization policy,” since schools would be polarized in terms of their preferences. Actually in the simulation, some schools in Gangnam and Dongjak area failed to reach 52% of their quota even after the second draw was conducted. Students who are forced into these schools might have a sense of deprivation or could strongly protest.