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Special Article Seoul Education Observed Through Keywords

Keywords for Seoul Education Starting “Anew and Differently”

Quiet Changes, Consistent Innovation during Phase 2 of Seoul Innovative Future-Oriented Education

Phase 1 of Seoul Innovative Future-Oriented Education led to changes in education in Seoul and achieved significant accomplishments through various policy measures. Policies for the second phase are aimed at building upon these accomplishments. Through four keywords, I will review the major issues of education in Seoul that were raised by the policies implemented during the first phase and take a view of the new education in Seoul that has started “anew and differently” with the second phase.

Written by Hwang Hee-sun (School Vice-commissioner, Policy Coordination Team, Policy and Safety Planning Division, Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education)

1. Human Rights - Abolition of Hairstyle Regulations & Public Discussion about Comfortable School Uniforms

Schools must become places where students enjoy going. They should be gardens of democracy where people with diverse appearances can live in harmony without barriers. To make schools places where students with free and comfortable hairstyles and fashion styles can happily go, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has taken its first step to secure the autonomy of “citizens in school uniforms.” On 27 September 2018, the office promised students comfortable hairstyles and fashion styles through a declaration about the “deregulation of hairstyle rules and public discussion about school uniforms.”

First, the declaration for “the deregulation of hairstyle rules for students in Seoul” pursues “the deregulation of rules on hair length and hair state (hair dye, perms, etc.).” Regarding “hair length,” 84% of schools in Seoul have already deregulated the rules. Those that still have hair length regulations in place must realize a deregulation through modifications in their student codes of conduct. From now on, teachers and students do not need to get involved in confrontations over the issue of hair length at school gates, and nor do teachers need to go the extra mile in guiding their students. With respect to “the deregulation of hair state (hair dye, perms, etc.),” each school will be allowed to go through a public discussion process and reach a conclusion with diverse options going from the total deregulation of rules to the maintenance of the status quo.

Public discussion is aimed at sharing the diverse opinions of stakeholders, experts and ordinary citizens, to reach a conclusion through a democratic process, and finalize decisions on relevant policies. The process is highly regarded for its educational effects as it offers students in Seoul a chance to experience first-hand a deliberative democracy and it enables them to realize student autonomy through participation in public discussions about the deregulation of hair style and school uniform related rules, an issue in which they have a direct interest.

Public discourse about comfortable school uniforms is the first public discourse promoted by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. It is all about how to make students’ school life more comfortable by changing “uncomfortable school uniforms” to “comfortable school uniforms.” The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will not rush to make policy decisions after a public discourse as the central government did about the college entrance examination system and the Shin Kori nuclear power plant project. On a first level, the Office of Education will present schools with recommendations and guidelines and then, on a second level, schools will come up with a decision on comfortable school uniforms through public discourses held in individual school.

Based on the results of the previous public discussions, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will provide individual schools with its recommendations, a public discourse manual, and guidelines on the establishment and modification of school rules with respect to comfortable school uniforms by the end of 2018. Schools will then proceed with public discussions about the styles, designs and purchase procedures of school uniforms in 2019. Finally, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education plans on implementing the comfortable school uniform system in the spring of 2020.

With the declaration serving as a springboard, all schools in Seoul will be able to foster a culture of democratic autonomy and experience the benefit of sufficient deliberation and consultation among the members of the school community. All the students in Seoul will be allowed to choose their own hairstyles starting with the second school semester of 2019 and wear comfortable school uniforms from the beginning of 2020, thus helping to create a new school culture full of student vitality and individuality in Seoul.

2. Safety - Measures against Toxic Environments & School Accidents

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has advocated, “School safety is our top priority.” The office strives to protect students, the teachers’ body and educational facilities. However, they are exposed to unexpected accidents and are also threatened by new types of toxic environments. Thus, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education establishes countermeasures preemptively against even minor safety-related issues, as well as comprehensively inspects safety systems and systemizes countermeasures to match the raised safety-related sensitivity of citizens in general and parents.

To prevent asbestos from inflicting health damage, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education is planning to remove all asbestos-containing products completely by 2027. The office will assign enough budget to educational environment improvement projects that might result in damage to asbestos-containing ceilings (improvements in cooling and healing systems, windows and fire extinguishing facilities). Above all, it is making earnest efforts to build a consensus through further communication with all stakeholders. The office spares no efforts to constantly create a safe and pleasant educational environment. To that end, it sets up thorough monitoring systems backed up by the professional training of school officials and extensive activities of asbestos monitoring groups.

To protect students, faculty and office staff from air pollution, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has produced the “Comprehensive School Fine Dust Management Plan 2018” and is taking measures to reduce people’s exposure to fine dust. To create an educational environment safe from fine dust, the Office of Education is implementing an air purifier installation support project in the classrooms of the most vulnerable students (kindergartens, elementary schools, and special schools), after-school day care classrooms, school health centers at elementary, middle, high and special schools, and protection areas for students’ sensitive to fine dust in middle and high schools. Indoor sports activities have been on the rise due to recent increase of fine dust concentrations. Accordingly, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education subsidizes cleaning expenses for gymnasiums built prior to 2016 (except for BTL schools). To enhance fine dust management in schools, the office is currently strengthening the overall monitoring system with measures such as parents’ monitoring and efficiency monitoring on air purifiers installed in schools. Meanwhile, to reduce the generation of fine dust in schools and take countermeasures against the production of fine dust, the office has distributed the “Practical Manual on Responses to High Concentration of Fine Dust” as part of its efforts to make sure that educational activities in schools will not be disturbed by fine dust while properly protecting the health of students and faculty.

Recently, Sangdo Kindergarten’s building sank into the ground on one side. The horrible accident was caused by the collapse of a retaining wall in the adjacent multi-dwelling housing construction site. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has demolished half of the kindergarten building to prevent additional structural failures and has set up an emergency response headquarter to take countermeasures and help normalize the operations of the kindergarten. For instance, the office has arranged for the kindergarten to operate normally in the classrooms of Sangdo Elementary School nearby with full administrative and fiscal support while providing psychological counseling therapy to the children, parents and teachers of the kindergarten. The office has already set up a long-term plan to normalize child education at the kindergarten as promptly as possible, and is taking fundamental measures to prevent similar accidents from reoccurring in the metropolitan city.

3.Publicness - Public Nature of Private Kindergartens

As operational irregularities in private kindergartens have emerged as a social concern as of late, the development direction for early childhood education as a whole is taking place. Looking back at its policies on early childhood education to date, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has announced a package of ‘special measures aimed at reinforcing the public nature of private kindergartens.’ Taking this opportunity, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education would like to turn adversities into blessings to realize quality education and raise the competitiveness of Seoul’s early childhood education from the future-oriented and mid- to long-term perspectives.

The most fundamental policy to strengthen the public nature of private kindergartens is to maximize the public kindergarten acceptance rate (18%). The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education aims to raise the rate to 40% by 2022. To this end, newly built elementary schools as well as schools with unused classrooms will be obliged to set up annexed kindergartens, and the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will push for plans to open independent kindergartens in seven autonomous districts and areas to be deserted by schools.

To strengthen the public nature of private kindergartens, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will spur the introduction of various types of public kindergarten innovation models: ‘publicly-managed, purchase-type and social cooperatives-style kindergartens.’ Publicly-managed kindergartens will receive KRW 500 to 600 million per year to strengthen their publicness on the condition of transparent management, while purchase-type kindergartens envision buying existing private kindergartens to convert them into state-funded schools. Social cooperatives-style kindergartens call for parents to create cooperatives, which would establish and operate kindergartens themselves. These alternative kindergartens, innovative models attempted by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education for the first time in the country and adopted by the Ministry of Education, are good examples displaying the business cooperation between the central government and municipal and provincial education offices.

To ensure the rights of preschoolers for learning in preparation for the collective action of several private kindergartens, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will set up a “Kindergarten Publicity Enhancement Division” under the ‘Seoul Early Childhood Education Development Implementation Division’ and do its utmost to protect their rights for learning by creating an intensive monitoring system. In addition, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will secure the driving force for boosting the transparency and responsibility of private kindergartens by encouraging participation in its kindergarten admission management system “Go First School’ and introducing ‘Edufine’ for the sake of sound and transparent accounting management. Hopefully, this will serve as an occasion for private kindergartens to be reborn anew with strong accountability for public education and the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will strive to realize balanced development and co-prosperity of both public and private kindergartens.

4. Welfare and Responsibility - Expansion of Ecofriendly Free School Meals & Redesign of Linking In- and Out-of-School Curriculums

Thanks to the cooperation between Seoul City and district offices, ecofriendly free school meals policy is set to go into effect across the board in all elementary, middle and high schools by 2021, regardless of the type of school public or private. Beginning next year, all 25 district offices in Seoul will join the policy, which will be implemented in stages commencing with third-graders first.

The free school meals policy should be seen through the big picture of universal education welfare and enhancement of the educative power of schooling, merely beyond the fact that students eat for free. The quality of school meals is directly connected to not only the health of students during their growth phase but also for their pleasant school life. Delicious food becomes the driving force of one’s pleasant school life and ultimately leads to their happiness toward school life. Ecofriendly free meals provide children with a stable school life, parents with trust in the office of education and teachers with an atmosphere for concentrating on classes.

According to a recent press release from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, 616 young school drop-outs who attended the “K-Dream Center” last year entered university and 40% of youths who attended the Center this year are said to apply for the College Scholastic Aptitude Test. Nearly half of the out-of-school youths who decided on their courses hope to continue their learning. A “Support Center for Out of School Teens” policy has been established for out-of-school students through the redesign of linking in- and out-of-school curriculums so that they can continue their learning and return to their studies through out-of-school academic certificates.

A “study support project for dropouts” is intended to provide young people who gave up learning at the high school level with diverse educational programs and let their learning experiences be recognized and their academic certificates be acknowledged. Academic certificates are acknowledged through an evaluation of academic ability and screenings when dropouts complete the required courses set by the education superintendent. The certificates are presented after adding up the regular curriculums completed before dropping out of school, study support programs and out-of-school study experiences.

The “basic allowance for out-of-school youths” aims to be a bridge that helps young people from low-income households not to be driven into a substandard labor environment and receive out-of-school learning experiences. In 2019, as a pilot project, out-of-school youths aged 9-18 who registered with the youth help center “Chingurang” of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will each receive KRW 200,000 per month. The program will be gradually expanded to cover all out-of-school youths who consent to the linkage of personal information.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will team up with relevant governmental agencies and related organizations to help young people who have been in the blind spot of the state welfare system grow as healthy members of society through customized support measures. These youths, who are precious students of our society, must be given equal education opportunities although they stand in a different starting line. Our existing education system should be rectified to enable everyone to have a certain level of ability. Hopefully, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education’s virtuous differential policies will serve as an “education dream ladder” for all children in Seoul.

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