In 2019, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education implemented a variety of policies to create changes in Seoul’s Education System, which became the foundation to the achievement of significant accomplishments. Among the many footsteps left by Seoul’s Education System in 2019, we have selected seven major news headlines as a way to look back at what has happened this past year.
1 Announcement of Autonomous Private High School Evaluation Results
Cancellation of the designation of 8 autonomous private high schools
After reviewing the results of the operational performance evaluation of autonomous private high schools in 2019, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education decided to proceed with cancellation procedures for eight schools, out of the 13 evaluated schools, which were considered unable to achieve their designation purposes. For schools that will be converted to general high schools, the Office of Education will help them launch customized curriculums in consideration of their characteristics and provide them with extra financial assistance for an early curriculum transfer. This support will be offered to protect the students’ right to learn and support educational activities that are appropriate for the schools’ establishment purposes. For schools that received higher scores than the baseline score, the Office of Education will continue to systematically monitor their inadequacies identified in the evaluation so that they can fulfill their responsibilities through educational activities that are appropriate their establishment purposes. Superintendent Cho Heeyeon said, “I will put in every effort to provide all the necessary administrative and financial support so that neither existing nor new students will suffer due to the transformation into general high schools.”
2 Opening of the Country’s First Private-Turned-Public Kindergarten
Purchasing of a private kindergarten, operation as a public independent kindergarten
As part of efforts to strengthen the public nature of childhood education and increase the number of public kindergartens, the Office of Education purchased a private kindergarten and opened it as Seoul Guam Kindergarten in March 2019 for the first time in Korea. The private-turned-public kindergarten refers to a private kindergarten that was purchased by a municipal/provincial office of education. The model has been introduced to quickly achieve the 40% ratio of public kindergartens and strike a balance in the development of public and private kindergartens by region. The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education plans to continue to increase the number of private-turned-public kindergartens to a total of 30 by 2021.
3 Discussions about Comfortable School Uniforms
Sites of deliberative democracy fostering democratic citizens
In the first semester of 2019, the Office of Education promoted discussions about “comfortable school uniforms” in all middle and high schools in Seoul.
The “Group for the Promotion of Comfortable School Uniform Discussions” set the scope of public discussion, selected agenda items, conducted student debates and citizen discussions, and created a report on the deliberation and discussion results. In November 2018, the group presented the Office of Education with the “Improvement Recommendations for Comfortable School Uniforms” in which several improvements were proposed, including the promotion of public discourse among students, at least a 50% reflection of students’ opinions, and administrative support for discourse at school.
The Office of Education adopted the recommendations and began public discussion about comfortable school uniforms in the first semester of 2019. The public discussions followed the “School Rules Operational Manual (2014)” published by the Ministry of Education with a greater focus on deliberation and opinion collection processes. Specific topics included the design and materials of school uniforms. Based on the recommendations, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has been operating a task force since November 2018 to support school discussions throughout the year of 2019. The task force has produced the “Comfortable School Uniform Discussion Manual,” the “Comfortable School Uniform Design Guidebook,” and the “Guide on School Uniform Purchasing by Schools.” The task force has also supported individual schools through the “Comfortable School Uniform Design Advisory Board.” Comfortable uniforms will be introduced in the 2020 school year through a school-led purchasing process.
4 Announcement of 2020 Proposal to Guarantee Seoul Students’ Basic Education
Realization of responsible education that leaves no student behind
The Office of Education announced the “2020 Proposal to Guarantee Seoul Students’ Basic Education” to support all Seoul students’ intellectual growth necessary for a successful social life. To develop policies that are relevant to on-site circumstances, the Office of Education actively collected opinions from schools, conducted on-site monitoring, held meetings with persons in charge of basic education, gathered feedback from teachers responsible for basic education, and held group forums with experts. The main tasks listed in the “2020 Seoul Student Basic Education Guarantee Proposal” include preventing a lack of basic education through the operation of the Second Grade Intensive School Year System; the implementation of basic education diagnostic tests for third grade students in all elementary schools and seven grade students in all middle schools; the expansion of a guidance system to guarantee basic education of middle schoolers; professional support for students eligible for learning support for various reasons; and the establishment of regional learning help centers for on-site support from experts.
5 Recommendation to Close Private Academies on Sundays
Overwhelmingly “approved” in a poll of Citizen Participation Group
The Committee for the Promotion of Public Discussion on the Closing of Private Academies on Sundays recommended implementing the system on the basis of an overwhelming approval among its 171 members and the result of a poll demonstrating a 34,655-person support of the system. The final survey among the members of the Citizen Participant Group, following the first and second surveys, indicated that 62.6% supported the implementation of the system, higher than those who were “opposed” and “reserved” combined. The main reason for the support was the institutional guarantee of students’ right to health and rest in both the first and second surveys. The other reasons included the creation of an environment in which families can spend weekends together and the reduction of dependency on private academies. Most respondents of the Citizen Participation Group answered that the deliberation process was fair (71.9%); that public discussions should be pursued continuously about education policy plans (96.9%); that their participation in the discussions raised their interest in education policies (93.1%); and that they would respect the final conclusion even if it were different from their opinions (85.0%), according to the Committee, praising the participants’ mature citizenship.
6 Seoul’s Education Community Issued a Joint Declaration to Protect Teachers’ Educational Activities
Creation of a school culture based on respect and consideration
In May, the Office of Education joined hands with student representatives, parent organizations, faculty organizations, and the Seoul Metropolitan Council to issue a joint declaration aimed towards creating a school culture based on mutual respect and consideration. The joint declaration was the first case where agencies and organizations representing Seoul’s Education System worked together to create a culture of respect for teachers’ professionalism and educational activities at school. It was a significant starting point for Seoul’s Education System towards their goal of leaving no one behind. Through the joint declaration, the Seoul Education Community stressed, “Seoul students’ right to learning, Seoul teachers’ right to education, and Seoul parents’ right to participate in education should all be mutually respected and guaranteed.” Additionally, in order to protect and support Seoul teachers’ educational activities, the Office of Education announced the “Major 2019 Policies to Protect Seoul Teachers’ Educational Activities,” including the pilot project to supply teachers with public cell phones, the establishment of a public service system at school, and the coverage of the Teacher Liability Insurance for all teachers.
7 Revocation of the Korea Kindergarten Association’s License
Securing of stability and public nature of early childhood education
In accordance with Article 38 of the Civil Law Act, the Office of Education has had the Korea Kindergarten Association’s license revoked. Initially, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education planned to review the proposal for license revocation of the association on the basis of the request for investigation by authorities in relation to audits conducted in December 2018. However, the Korea Kindergarten Association announced that an “indefinite postponement of the kindergarten opening” and told media outlets and group chat rooms that more than 1,500 kindergartens would remain closed indefinitely as a way to protest government policies. In response, Superintendent Cho Heeyeon urged the association to stop the indefinite closure of the kindergartens twice. This was followed by a joint press conference held by superintendents in the Seoul Capital Area, including Seoul, Gyeonggi-do Province, and Incheon, to request an end of the protests. On the same day, the association reasserted its willingness to continue fighting. A total of 239 kindergartens did not start their first semester on March 4. The Office of Education was forced to proceed with the license revocation.
Written by Cho Heeyeon(Superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) Photo supplied by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education