Thursday, December 23, 2010

First Public High School for Waygooks to Open in Seoul

South Korea has set the date to open the nation's first public High School for children of immigrant families.

The education authorities will open the nation’s first public high school for children from underprivileged immigrant families in Seoul in March, 2012. 
Officials from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said Tuesday it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the city’s educational office for the establishment of the school. Students will be admitted for free. 
The project was initially proposed by the Presidential Committee on Social Cohesion, which reviews policies for marriage immigrants and their families.
The alternative public school, named “Dasom,” meaning love in Korean, will be built in Jung-gu, central Seoul and provide vocational education to interracial children who have difficulties in attending regular Korean schools. 
“We plan to set up more alternative elementary and middle schools for students from multicultural families,” said Jeon Woo-hong, a ministry director. 
The school will run six classes for some 200 students in need of receiving technical training for future employment such as electronic or electric machines, fashion design, cooking, computers, and fashion design. 
Children will also learn Korean language and culture so they can adapt to Korean life and customs. 
There were a total of 42,676 school-age children from immigrant families in Korea last year. About 7,360 or 17.2 percent of them were not enrolled in or quit schools due to fear of being ostracized, language barriers, lack of understanding of Korean culture or economic difficulties. 
The ministry has introduced a variety of educational programs and some alternative schools for children from multicultural families. However, it is the first time for the government to build an alternative school, exclusively for these children. 
Korea has many international schools, crowded with many Korean students, but the English-speaking schools annually charge more than 20 million won ($17,346). 
The education ministry will cover the construction costs and Seoul City will provide scholarships for all students. The city’s education office will come up with guidelines for admission criteria. 
This school has the potential to do a lot of good, but there are also problems that could result from its creation.  To begin, living in a country that is 98% ethnically homogeneous and belonging to that other 2% is a challenge.  The numbers do not lie, nearly twenty percent of school-age children last year of immigrant families quit school because they could not bare going anymore.  The creation of a school exclusively for children of foreigners will reduce (hopefully eliminate) the feelings that these children have of being outsiders or pariahs.

The language is the biggest barrier that these children have growing up.  If Korean is not the primary language spoken by their families at home, then it is their second and a less familiar language even if they have lived and gone to school in Korea since birth.  Attending a school with other foreign children who are on the same speaking level in Korean will help slow down the pace of regular classes and they might be more able to follow and excel in their studies.

The problems of creating a foreigner only high school are subtle.  The school might receive less funding our opportunities that other high schools in Seoul are afforded.  Korean education officials might equate "special" treatment for this school with "less attention" and the kids could face unintended discrimination.  Attracting quality teachers might be a problem as well, as many Koreans might be apprehensive about working at a school with a poor academic reputation or having classes with students not proficient in reading and writing Korean.

Multiculturalism and ethnic diversity are also foreign and modern concepts to Korea.  Korean children have very few opportunities growing up to speak with and interact with foreigners or people of a mixed heritage.  Removing the few children of ethnic diversity from regular schools just deprives Korean children with valuable opportunities to interact with children from other cultures and ethnicities.  It becomes a lost opportunity.

The school opens in two years, and hopefully it will be a successful experiment.
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