|Officials from Cheong Wa Dae, the government and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) hold a meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul, Tuesday, to discuss the introduction of free education for high school students. /Yonhap|
By Bahk Eun-ji
All high school students in Korea will get a free education starting 2021, the government said, Tuesday.
Cheong Wa Dae, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and the relevant ministries agreed on providing the long-awaited free education gradually to all high school students, after a meeting at the National Assembly, Tuesday, according to the Ministry of Education
So far Korea has only offered free education at elementary and middle school levels, which are compulsory.
Free tuition at high schools has been one of the top education policy goals of the Moon Jae-in administration.
According to the ministry, free high school education will begin for seniors in the second semester of this year and will be expanded gradually to sophomores next year and juniors by 2021.
All expenses for high school education, such as admission fees, school operation fees, tuition and textbook purchases, will be covered. But students who attend special-purpose elite schools or autonomous private high schools, which do not receive financial aid from regional education offices, will be excluded.
"The right to be educated is one of the basic rights stipulated in the Constitution, and it is an indispensable task to realize such a basic right," DPK floor leader Hong Young-pyo said at the beginning of the meeting. "Among 35 OECD countries, Korea is the only country where high school students do not get a free education."
Vice Finance Minister Koo Yoon-cheol also said the free education would help a household with one high school student save 1.58 million won ($1,382) per year.
The central government and regional education offices will share the cost of providing the free education, estimated to be about an annual 2 trillion won, with each paying 50 percent.
Hong said the ruling party would make efforts to have relevant revisions passed by the National Assembly during the first half of the year to enable the free education for seniors to start in the latter half.
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said this free education provision is expected to help parents reduce education costs, especially for families that have been excluded from government subsidies for high school tuition because they make marginally too much to qualify for the subsidy.
"The central government and education offices will cooperate closely to implement the long-awaited free education for high school students," Yoo said.
She added that free education does not mean high school attendance will become compulsory. "I don't see the need to make it compulsory as almost 100 percent of middle school students already go on to high school," she said.
Teachers' groups and education-related organizations generally welcomed the decision, but showed concern over whether regional education offices will be able to afford their portion of the cost.