Controversy on Self-Governing Private High School Causes Distrust Towards South Korean Government

Jul 25, 2019

Fate of Sangsan High School will be decided on the 25th. Ministry of Education (MOE) held a committee meeting to designate special high schools and others and is going to decide on whether it is going to eliminate a high school from being a special high school for the first time this year. Sangsan High School in Jeonbuk and Ansan Dongsan Christian High School in Gyeonggi are subjected to this situation.
Sangsan High School being eliminated as a self-governing private high school has caused social controversy regarding how evaluation was ran. A parent of a student from Sangsan High School recently accused Superintendent Kim Seung-hwan of Jeonbuk-do Education for abuse of official authority and defamation. Corresponding parent raised a question with how Superintendent Kim was the only one in South Korea to set the cut-off line at 80 points. On the other hand, KoreaTeachers accused 151 National Assembly members including Jung Woon-cheon from Bareunmirae Party who voiced their opinions by saying that Sangsan High School needs to maintain its status as a self-governing private high school for abuse of official authority.
Sangsan High School is not the only high school that was eliminated. 11 high schools were eliminated this year after 11 offices of education had carried out their evaluations. Offices of education need to obtain a consent from MOE before they go through hearing procedure and make final decision. Offices of education Jeonbuk and Gyeonggi finished their hearing procedures and made a request to MOE. Seoul had carried out its hearing procedure on the 24th. Office of education in Busan held its hearing procedure on the 8th for Haeundae High School. However, it had to resume hearing procedure on the 23rd after the first hearing did not run properly. When hearing procedure is finished, re-designation issue will not be a responsibility of an office of education but it will be a responsibility of MOE.
This is the reason why every eye is on MOE’s decision. There are different views towards what MOE’s decision is going to be. Some believe that because abolition of self-governing private high school policy was South Korean Government’s promise, they believe that MOE is going to ultimately agree with not designating Sangsan High School as a self-governing private high school. Some others believe that MOE will not approve Sangsan High School not being designated as a self-governing private high school due to the fact that it faced a cut-off line that was higher than that of other areas and that it has solidified itself as a school providing academic excellence.
However, current issue will not go away even when MOE makes its decision. Superintendents Cho Hee-yeon and Kim Seung-hwan once stated that they will file a claim for adjudication on jurisdiction disputes if MOE does not grant consent. There will be evaluations on re-designation next year as well. 9 high schools in Seoul such as Hyundai High School and Whimoon High School will go through evaluations. Starting from next year, international high schools will go through evaluations.
It is likely that there will be continuous controversy on what standards will be used to make a decision on re-designation of special high school and that controversy on ‘educational autonomy system’, which has stirred many issues, will become even more serious.
◊Evaluation process and standard differs per region
Although Sangsan High School received 79.61 points, it fell short of 80 points that is the minimum standard in Jeonbuk for designating a high school as a self-governing private high school. Parents of students from this school raised a question about fairness compared to other regions. Korean Minjok Leadership Academy, which is located in Gangwon-do, received 79.77 points and passed an evaluation from the office of education in Gangwon-do as its minimum standard is 70 points. However, Korean Minjok Leadership Academy would had not passed an evaluation if it is located in Jeonbuk.
When even the National Assembly members got involved, National Council of Governors of Education (Chairman Kim Seung-hwan) issued a statement that asked for rights to designate or cancel a high school as a self-governing private high school to return back to superintendents to implement education autonomy. It stated that the nature of education autonomy was damaged as superintendents have to get an approval from the minister of MOE in advance before they designate or cancel a high school as a self-governing private high school. It is saying that it is up to offices of education to have control over education of pre-school, elementary school, and middle school and to set up standards for evaluation.
There are different views towards different standards.
Arguments towards conflict of attribution are repeated every time. During the last government, central government and offices of education collided regarding budget issue for education process for children between 3 and 5 years old.
Although tasks involving pre-school, elementary school, and middle school are under the jurisdiction of an office of education, MOE has to be the one that is responsible when there are issues. Even when offices of education had to be the ones responsible for closing of private pre-schools situation, level of tension between the central government and local governments was high.
Work that does not seem to be too interesting in the eyes of superintendents of education sometimes causes differences between regions becoming more severe. Although providing IT environment for schools has been left alone for more than ten years, regions have different feels about the seriousness of this issue. While Gyeongbuk and Jeju are looking for ways to improve IT environment, other offices of education are only looking at South Korean Government for financial support.
“Task that is most important out of every task of an office of education is the one that has impact on election of a superintendent.” said a vice-superintendent of a region. “It is true that tasks that are not emphasized by a superintendent will be neglected.”

Controversy on Self-Governing Private High School Causes Distrust Towards South Korean Government

◊Ambiguous education autonomy the root of all problems
Although governance comprised of MOE and offices of education aim for decentralized education autonomy, it is only a semi-education autonomy from a group aspect. Teachers are still national public workers even though MOE and offices of education are emphasizing education autonomy and school autonomy. Although some were insisting on converting teachers into regional public workers, they were faced strong opposition from groups made up of teachers.
“When I became a superintendent, only superintendents and assistants were regional public workers when everyone else was a national public worker.” said Woo Dong-ki who was the formal superintendent of education in Daegu. “Although there were ways to operate more fluidly, we could not even make an attempt due to strong opposition.” MOE has the right to take disciplinary action and to employ. Right to take disciplinary action is entrusted into an office of education.
Principal bidding system that was set up to strengthen school autonomy is also being left out. Principle bidding system was introduced in 2007 to employ a skillful principle through public participation. Principle bidding system is being left out because there is clear division within groups of teachers towards this system and there are no active discussions for members of a school.
Offices of education also have their own dissatisfaction. They are stating that there needs to be financial support from the central government as the school lunch issue was promised by the central government.
Some are criticizing the fact that awkward organization system has created gray education autonomy.
“School autonomy is the key point of education autonomy and there is too much of difference depending on abilities and will of principals.” said a high-ranking official for MOE. “Although this issue cannot be left alone, it is being left in an awkward state.”
◊South Korean Government looking to establish a national education committee
South Korean Government is working on establishing a national education committee. Although it may be difficult to establish the committee by end of this year, it is certain that the committee is needed to establish bipartisan and medium and long-term educational policies.
When the committee is established MOE will be responsible for universities and lifelong education and act as the presiding department for ministers meeting on social relationship. In a medium to long-term, it needs to completely transfer control of education of pre-school, elementary school, and middle school to appropriate offices of education. It will be inevitable for the size of MOE to shrink as a result.
Even when superintendent direct election system was implemented, MOE was responsible for relevant policies while offices of education were responsible for actual work and education. Experts are doubtful on whether MOE will be able to completely transfer control of education to offices of education when there is a huge controversy.
“There will be continuous controversies if South Korean Government does not provide supplementation for education autonomy to stand straight in this current structure.” said a representative for the education industry. “Even if the committee is established, it will be doubtful for MOE to completely transfer control to offices of education.”
Staff Reporter Mun, Bokyung | okmun@etnews.com

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