Korea: Dangerous policy on international schools

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu May 1 11:57:01 UTC 2008

Dangerous policy on international schools

A series of educational policies adopted by the administration of
President Lee Myung-bak have caused doubt about its basic educational
philosophy. The new administration is attempting to divide students
according to academic achievement and abandoning the nation's basic
responsibility by neglecting to recognize education as a universal
social institution. This is especially true of the government's plan
for education at South Korea's international schools, which the
government introduced on April 28 as a way to boost the service
sector. Considering the fact that Korea recorded an over US$20.5
billion deficit in the service account in 2007, with a considerable
part of that going to study abroad programs, the government should
certainly find more ways to encourage people to spend their money
domestically. However, an allopathic measure that ignores the
underlying cause of the problem will not fundamentally solve the

The biggest reason why Korea is sending an unprecedented number of
students to foreign countries has to do with the failure of public
education, with its intense focus on entrance examinations and English
fever. If the nation could improve the quality of higher education,
free middle and high school students from entrance examinations by
ensuring equal access to universities and provide an education
experience through which all students could display their abilities to
the fullest, demand for overseas study would decrease considerably.
The situation is the same for English language education. The nation
should take an objective look at what level of English is really
necessary for students at different grade levels and establish a
program within the public education system that can provide it,
instead of inciting "English fever" by adopting English immersion

However, one measure suggested by the government calls for an increase
in the ratio of local students enrolled in South Korea's international
schools to 30 percent, allowing those institutions to send the profits
back to the country of origin. Another would give the same weight to a
diploma from an international school as one from a regular public
school. Other measures include a reduction in the number of years one
must have lived abroad before being allowed to apply for admission to
international schools to three, from the current five; the
introduction of an English immersion program; and reduced requirements
for foreign teachers living in Korea. These measures will only serve
to damage universal access to education and deepen social
polarization, rather than reducing the demand for study abroad

If the admissions requirements for the country's international schools
are relaxed, more young students who want to enter these schools may
instead head to foreign countries to study and the schools will become
institutions that are exclusively for the children of rich families.
If elementary and secondary schools like Songdo International School,
which was established in a free economic zone, are established in
other free economic zones, Korea will be providing greater access to
its elementary and secondary schools, which could threaten educational
ideals. The government should not incite educational polarization by
initiating policies with questionable outcomes and should completely
revise its policies on international schools.

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani at hani.co.kr]


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