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Posted : 2012-05-23 17:10
Updated : 2012-05-23 17:10

Meister schools fight social prejudice

This is the last in a three-part series on Korea’s innovative education programs that have drawn much attention from educational policymakers around the world. ― ED.

By Na Jeong-ju

In Korea, blue-collar workers without college diplomas are often belittled. Technicians and engineers and even vocational high school students are treated unfairly and are looked down upon due to prejudice in society.

The wage gap between college graduates and workers who did not undertake tertiary education is one of the main reasons for prevailing negative social attitudes.

In response to this, the government created Meister high schools in 2010, in which students can develop personal aptitudes and specialized skills in order to pursue their dreams without the need of college diplomas.

The creation of the schools is part of government efforts to diversify education for teenagers. South Korea is known for the feverish outlook on education among parents who spend massive sums of money on private tutoring. The principal problem is that most seek to send their children to just a handful of top-level universities.

Defined as “high schools tailored to the demands of the industrial sector,” a Meister institution focuses on supporting students in their effort to gain employment after graduation by providing a curriculum that reflects the demands of industry. Practical classes jointly developed by schools and industry are at the core of the project along with hands-on experience acquired at partner companies and studying while working schemes that enable people already employed to study in colleges through a special admission system.

In 2010, the Meister schools chose a total of 3,600 students for technical education and apprenticeships so that they can develop expertise in fields such as shipbuilding, mechanical engineering, semiconductor manufacturing and medical equipment. Students don’t pay tuition fees and are given the chance to get jobs after graduation. The government plans to gradually increase the number of the schools.

Meister schools provide students with an educational environment based on achieving a win-win partnership with industry. The schools establish their own curriculum, selecting fields of study according to industrial needs and potential. Throughout this process, students can continue their career development after getting a job. In addition, experts from the private sector are invited to participate in curriculum revision, in order to tailor study programs to industrial needs.

At Meister schools, there are not only principals from industrial sectors, but also teachers who concurrently work within local industries. These “Meister teachers” can teach students on-site realities, something that students would not be able to access otherwise. To secure more Meister teachers, the government signed agreements with various organizations, such as the Korea Master Society and the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology.

Win-win for enterprises, schools

Firms have not only hired graduates of Meister high schools, but also provide funds to enhance learning environment there.

SK Hynix, a partner of Chungbuk Semiconductor High School, for example, donated equipment worth 2.8 billion won for practical training. It also provided long-term in-house training for teachers and support for classes that teaches tailored curricula. The number of businesses supporting Meister high schools as partners has exceeded 1,300.

The strong will of the government has played a major role in the success of Meister high schools. From 2009 to 2011, President Lee Myung-bak visited such schools every year to encourage teachers and students.

As a result, graduates of Meister high schools are flooded with job offers from companies creating a new trend in the job market.

The country’s major banks, such as Kookmin Bank, the Industrial Bank of Korea and Woori Bank, have opened their doors to vocational high school graduates. The Korea Federation of Banks announced that it would recruit more than 2,700 vocational high school graduates over the next three years.