Published : 2013-03-11 19:48
Updated : 2013-03-11 19:48
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has launched an investigation into alleged admission corruption at Younghoon International Middle School, one of the two special-purpose middle schools in Seoul set up to nurture global talent.
The allegations were put forward last week by a member of the Education Committee of the Seoul Metropolitan Council. The official said that a parent told him last month that she paid the school 20 million won for her son’s admission.
As the whistleblower also told the official that her son was not the only case of entering the school in return for paying a large sum of money, he checked whether her claim was true.
He said it was an open secret among parents who wanted to enroll their children in the elite school that a slot would cost them 20 million won.
The money-for-admission scandal follows the controversy stirred up in January over the school’s admission of the son of Lee Jay-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics and the son of Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee.
The school selects most of its students through a lottery. But it gives preferential treatment to “underprivileged” applicants ― children from poor families and families that deserve special considerations for non-financial reasons.
The non-financial category includes single- or no-parent families, families with three or more kids, and families of veterans, North Korean refugees, and the disabled.
Lee’s son was admitted just because he was from a single-parent family. The Samsung heir-in-waiting divorced his wife in 2009.
Of the 16 children to whom the school has given preferential treatment for non-financial reasons, seven, including Lee’s son, were from affluent families that could hardly be seen as underprivileged. Furthermore, the list included none from no-parent or North Korean refugee families.
As the school’s student selection practices made little sense, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education decided to inspect it. The money-for-admission allegations led the office to expand and speed up its planned investigation.
The school, together with Daewon International Middle School, was established in 2009 to discover and nurture future leaders. But the two elite schools have been shrouded in controversy since their inception.
Critics denounce them as schools only for the rich as their tuitions are prohibitively expensive for ordinary families ― 7.2 million won a year, excluding fees for meals and extracurricular activities.
But competition is high among rich families to have their children enrolled in these schools. One attraction is that they conduct all classes in English except a few subjects, such as the Korean language and Korean history.
Korea needs elite schools to absorb, at least partly, the nation’s huge demand for quality education, which is expressed in ever-growing overseas educational expenses.
According to a Bank of Korea report released on Sunday, Koreans have spent more than $4 billion a year to finance overseas studies since 2006. Last year, the figure reached $4.4 billion. As a result, Korea’s education deficit since 2007 has topped $30 billion.
Elite schools can play a role in reducing Korea’s education deficit. They will also contribute to enhancing the nation’s educational standard and make Korea a regional educational hub.
Yet to avoid a perpetuation of inequality in education, these schools should select a certain portion of students from underprivileged families. The government needs to ensure that they implement affirmative action programs in a transparent manner.