Even before their inception, two proposed international middle schools are being used as vehicles to make irregular gains by private cram schools, or hagwon ― an indication that more illegalities are in store involving the Seoul elite schools.
The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said it has caught 34 private hagwon producing false and exaggerated ads concerning the international schools.
“Many hagwon are advertising that international schools will strongly weigh English skills in their selection of students. As we have previously made clear, it’s totally wrong,” said Yang Ki-hoon, administrator of the office. “We will closely watch and punish hagwon that cheat parents with false information about the schools.’’
Among those inspected, two hagwon overcharged parents more than the standard fee set by the education office. They were suspended from operations and face tax audits. Other hagwon were disciplined for holding classes for middle school exams beyond regulated operating hours. The education authorities issued them warnings and correction orders.
The office has investigated 61 hagwon recently as the new international schools are already triggering overheated competition in the private education market, targeting rich parents who want their children to attend schools that conduct all classes in English.
Korea has seen education costs reach a record high of 15 trillion won ($15 billion) in the first half of the year. The new international schools are expected to provide a further boost to the private cram school industry.
The education office has allowed Younghoon Middle School and Daewon Middle School to transform themselves into international schools next March. The two schools in northern Seoul will each admit 160 students.
The two schools will shortlist applicants after screening them based on recommendations, academic competition awards, school records, interviews and group discussions. Then a lottery will finally select successful applicants. It said there will be no English tests even though all classes will be taught in the language.
Despite criticism from civic groups and progressive teachers groups, Kong Jeong-taek, superintendent of the education office, is pushing ahead with the plan for the schools. The education ministry has yet to express its official stance on the controversial issue.