Princeton University Library Catalog


Ahn, Soh Yoon (Yooni) [Browse]
Senior thesis
Lockheed, Marlaine [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
132 pages
Summary note:
This thesis analyzes the landscape of elite education policies in South Korea by examining the changes in the admissions policies for Foreign Language High Schools (FLHSs), Korean elite high schools that provide advanced curriculum in foreign languages. Given that elite education has unusually high stakes in Korea, policymakers have made numerous changes in the secondary school system in order to achieve the two principle goals of education—equity and efficiency. First, this thesis provides the historical and theoretical contexts to explain the development of elite education institutions, especially FLHSs. The expansion of secondary schools in the late 20th century ironically fueled the competition for admissions to a few academically well-performing high schools by accentuating the prestige stemming from their college admissions results. The High School Equalization Policy aimed to mitigate the hierarchy, but the establishment of Specialized High Schools eventually re-introduced an order into the system. Additionally, the theoretical analysis necessarily contextualizes FLHSs as embodiments of the pro-efficiency argument, institutionalized forms of tracking, and sources of demand for shadow education. The increasing popularity of FLHSs gave rise to three main social problems: the misalignment between the institutional and perceived purposes of FLHSs, the rising popularity of FLHS-preparatory private tutoring services, and the rise of a new elite class composed of FLHS graduates. Since wealthy people were able to seek high amounts of private tutoring to increase their chances of admissions, FLHSs had the potential to deny access to elite education to people in lower socioeconomic classes. The rising awareness of such social problems resulted in the FLHS abolishment controversies in 2007 and in 2009. The first attempt under the Noh administration fell short largely due to strong oppositions from conservative interest groups and the lack of President Noh’s political power. The second attempt under the Lee administration developed into a lively debate among FLHS representatives, parents, teachers, and politicians; the Ministry of Education, however, decided against the abolition and instead chose a less radical reform in order to bridge the wide range of opinions among the various stakeholders. The content and message behind the 2009/10 FLHS Improvement Policy indicate that the government emphasized FLHSs’ social costs over their educational benefits. The new FLHS mission statement, the Socially Cared Individual quota, and the Self-Directed Learning approach suggest that the government aimed to provide opportunities for socioeconomic mobility through elite education. The policy’s assessment thus far shows mixed results: it lowered the FLHS students’ academic abilities, made little impact on the applicants’ perception of FLHSs, somewhat affected the private tutoring industry, made unknown effects on the diversity in FLHSs’ student body, but induced compliance from many FLHSs through its regulatory and enforcement mechanisms. Lastly, this thesis concludes by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the 2009/10 policy’s implementation and by inferring three findings about the role of elite education institutions in South Korea. Since elite education institutions provide one, if not the only, viable means for socioeconomic advancement, their role in maintaining socioeconomic fluidity in society is crucial. Overall, these observations should serve as a reminder to policymakers, politicians, and the public alike when they make and react to the changes in education policies for FLHSs and elite institutions at large.