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Foreign Language High Schools Undergoing Crisis

Posted November. 15, 2010 11:11,   

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A staff member at Yongin Foreign Language High School in Gyeonggi Province said with a sigh of regret, “We advised students with good academic performances and English-language proficiency to apply (to Yonsei University), but most failed, which is hard to believe. Only some of them with academic records good enough for admission were admitted.”

“Only five percent of students who applied for early admission at Yonsei University were admitted,” he said. “This constitutes bashing of foreign language high schools and reverse discrimination.”

A source at Daewon Foreign Language High School in Seoul also said, “The number of students admitted through two early admission programs has declined to a third from last year. We didn’t expect the situation to be as bad as it is now.”

“Since Yonsei will seek to recruit highly talented students, we are pinning our hopes that the university will devise other measures (to recruit our students).”

Top-tier foreign language high schools are frustrated over the low number of their students getting into Yonsei. This is because the university has significantly increased the weight of academic performance in admissions review for its Global Leader Underwood International Admissions Program and decreased the importance of foreign language.

Through last year, Yonsei reflected in full the official scores of students in established English proficiency tests, including the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, and the Test of English Proficiency, or TEPS, but classified scores into grade levels A, B and C this year.

According to sources at foreign language high schools, Grade A, the minimum level for granting a student admission, translates into 100 points on TOEFL’s Internet-based test and 777 points on TEPS.

Teachers at foreign language high school unanimously said these scores are very low and that most of their students exceeded them.

A source at Myungduk Foreign Language High School in Seoul said, “This means that students who received 780 points and 900 points received the same grade in the college admissions review,” adding, “This is a major blow to foreign language high school students, who are superior in English proficiency but are at a disadvantage in high school academic records.”

Not all students from foreign language high schools were discriminated against in Yonsei’s early admissions program. Seoul Foreign Language High School said, “The number of students admitted has more than doubled from previous years.”

In addition, foreign language high schools in Goyang, Seongnam, Suwon and Gimpo in Gyeonggi Province said they saw the numbers of their students admitted edge up from last year.

College admissions experts attribute this trend to students with the best scholastic records at top-tier foreign language high schools opting for Seoul National University instead of Yonsei, and those with the highest grades at second-tier foreign language high schools tending to apply to Yonsei.

One expert said, “This suggests that high school academic records played the biggest role in this year’s admissions screening at Yonsei.”

○ Gov’t ‘pressure’ on foreign language high schools

Yonsei denied putting certain schools at an advantage or disadvantage, but is known to be reshuffling its admissions system to disfavor students from foreign language high schools. For example, it scrapped the Global Leader Admissions Program, which gave an advantage to students at foreign language high schools and was set to begin in 2013, when it announced its student admissions plan for 2012.

Educational community insiders said Yonsei, which was under criticism for favoring foreign language high schools in admissions, was pressured by the government. One pundit said, “This trend will spread to other universities as well.”

The dean of admissions at a private university in Seoul, who asked not to be named, said, “Universities did give less weight to high school academic records than announced to recruit talented students from foreign language high schools.”

“Since the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, which seeks to expand the introduction of the admissions officer system, has warned of a stern crackdown against such a practice, it will become difficult for universities to give preferential treatment to students from foreign language high schools.”

The government is known to have been pressing foreign language high schools since late last year by introducing a reform plan restricting the number of students from such schools in college admissions.

Education Minister Lee Ju-ho said in October last year while serving as vice minister, “Since students have more choices for high schools, including self-governing private high schools, foreign language high schools are no longer the only prestigious high schools,” adding, “Dismantling foreign language high schools is meant to enhance the level of high school education in general.”

The crackdown on foreign language high schools has led to falling competitive ratios in admissions to such schools. The competitive ratio for nine foreign language high schools in Gyeonggi Province declined from 6.7 to one last year to 3.6 this year and 2.3 next year.

Foreign language high schools in Seoul have yet to recruit students for the 2011 school year, but the prevailing view is that the competitive ratio will decline from last year’s 3.1.

○ Self-governing high schools upbeat

Self-governing high schools are generally welcoming college admissions programs that have grown more unfavorable to foreign language high schools.

A source at Yongin Foreign Language High School, which was changed into a self-governing school, said, “Yonsei University will scrap the Global Leader Admissions Program in the 2013 school year, and this will be when the first batch of students recruited after our school was transformed from a foreign language to self-governing high school will be graduating.”

“Our school will see improvement in getting students admitted to prestigious universities since they could seek to pursue not only humanities and social science majors but also those of natural sciences and engineering.”

A source at Whimoon High School in Seoul, which was changed into a self-governing high school this year, said, “If the weight of student academic records increases for early admissions programs, it will deal a blow to students from self-governing high schools as well as foreign language high schools. Since foreign language high schools will probably suffer more damage, however, our school stands to see relative benefits.”



baron@donga.com