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Korea to support multicultural children

Voters from multicultural families in Donghae, gangwon province, participate in a mock vote Monday in preparation for the upcoming parliamentary elections in April. (Yonhap News)
Voters from multicultural families in Donghae, gangwon province, participate in a mock vote Monday in preparation for the upcoming parliamentary elections in April. (Yonhap News)
The Education Ministry announced Monday that it would establish more preparatory schools to help children from multicultural families learn the Korean language and culture before they enter regular public school, and will provide Korean as a Second Language classes at schools.

The ministry unveiled a set of multicultural policies in light of the growing number of children from multicultural families that have to adjust to the Korean school system.

The number of children of different ethnicities has increased about threefold from 44,258 in 2007 to 151,154 last year.

“We will help children of different ethnicities find their talents and help nurture them so that they can grow up into great assets to our society,” said Education Minister Lee Ju-ho at the press briefing at Itaewon Elementary School in Seoul.

There are 38,678 such students in primary and secondary schools, accounting for 0.55 percent of the total enrollment as of 2011. The ministry expects the percentage will reach 1.12 percent in two years.

The plan calls for an increase in the number of preparatory schools from three to 26 nationwide next year. In the prep schools, children can take basic language and culture classes before they enter regular school.

Multicultural coordinators will be dispatched to immigration offices and regional education offices to make sure children receive such services and keep parents informed until they are assigned to regular schools, officials said.

“One of the most urgent issues raised by experts was teenagers who came to Korea when their parent married a Korean spouse, but didn’t go to school,” said Lee. “They have trouble adjusting to schools because of the language barrier and cultural differences.”

Officials speculate there are about 2,000 teenagers and 3,000 more children of undocumented migrant workers in the country who are not in the school system.

Schools with students of different ethnicities will also set up Korean as a second language classes, which will prepare students to acquire a certain level of Korean necessary to adjust to the regular school curriculum.

“KSL is modeled after the ESL system in the U.S. which requires foreign students to pass the class before they take regular classes,” said Lee.

Jeon Young-mi, a Korean language instructor at Itaewon Elementary School, welcomed the KSL classes.

“There are many Korean textbooks for adults, but only few for children so we had to make our own textbooks,” Jeon said.

“Another important thing is to promote multicultural education for all students,” Lee stressed.

As part of this effort, the ministry plans to increase dual-language instructors tenfold from 120 this year to 1,200 in 2015 so that there will be at least one such teacher assigned to every 50 students. The dual-language instructors will promote the understanding of diverse languages, cultures and histories.

Other measures include job training schools for students from different ethnic backgrounds and designating 150 schools as model schools in multicultural education so that they can share effective programs with other schools.

But some experts say the government measures came a little late compared to what private schools have been doing for multi-ethnic children.

“We’ve done what the government couldn’t do (regarding multicultural education) with assistance from private donors. We’ve struggled without sustainable support,” said Meang Kyung-hee, a teacher at the School of Global Sarang, the nation’s first private elementary school for multi-ethnic children.

“Now we can receive some financial assistance from the government for some programs since we are designated as one of the preparatory schools this year,” Meang added.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)
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