South Korean education board probes cram schools after exam leaks

Revelations of cheating had led to cancellation of US entrance tests in score-obsessed nation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 2:44am


South Korean officials yesterday launched an investigation into cram schools after a cheating scandal that led to the nationwide cancellation of US university entrance exams this month.

The education office in the capital Seoul started the special probe into a number of private academies suspected of illegally obtaining questions for the SAT and leaking them to pupils, a spokesman said.

The administrator of the SAT - the most widely used test for applying to US universities - scrapped the scheduled May 4 exams after discovering questions were already circulating among some test-prep schools.

The College Board also cancelled subject tests in biology scheduled for next month.

"The moral hazard prevalent among some SAT prep schools has reached a serious level," the Seoul education office said in a statement, criticising school operators for "tarnishing the national reputation and harming innocent applicants".

The moral hazard prevalent among some SAT prep schools has reached a serious level

Those cram schools discovered to have leaked questions will face closure as well as special tax audits, with the owners banned from opening new schools for a certain period, it added.

According to the Institute of International Education's figures, South Korea sent 72,295 students to the US in 2011-12 - the third largest provider of foreign students to US universities after China and India.

Cram schools for global tests - not to mention domestic university exams - are a lucrative industry in education-obsessed South Korea, where qualifications from top colleges are crucial for careers and even marriage prospects.

For nearly all their school lives, South Korean students study late into the night - often at costly, private cram schools - to stay ahead in the race for admission to top universities. The entire nation holds its breath on the day of the domestic university entrance exam in November.

The cancellation of the SAT exam at the beginning of May prompted a flood of soul-searching in the national press.

"This incident reveals the dark side of our education culture that has no qualms about cheating even at an international level," said the Kookmin daily, which called the scandal a "national shame".

The Joongang newspaper said such incidents were bound to be repeated given the number of students and parents "apparently willing to sell their souls if they can boost test scores".