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Children of Afghan evacuees start school life in Ulsan

The 85 students will take special language, culture classes at new school

Afghan students sit in a Korean language and culture class at Seoboo Elementary School in Dong-gu, Ulsan, on Monday. (Yonhap)
Afghan students sit in a Korean language and culture class at Seoboo Elementary School in Dong-gu, Ulsan, on Monday. (Yonhap)
Monday was the first day of school for 85 children of evacuees from Afghanistan in the southeastern city of Ulsan, after being airlifted here from the war-torn home country last year. 

Among them, 28 started school life at Seoboo Elementary School in Dong-gu, while 16 children aged 5 to 7 entered nearby preschools operated by Noksu Elementary School and Sangin Elementary School. 

Nineteen middle school students and 22 high schoolers also began attending classes at 14 neighboring public schools Monday, including Nammok Middle School and Nammok High School. 

Before taking regular classes with Korean students, the Afghan children at Seoboo Elementary will learn Korean language and culture in special classes for six to 12 months, the school said. 
Noh Ok-hee, Ulsan’s education superintendent, greets a group of Afghan students at the entrance of Seoboo Elementary on Monday. (Yonhap)
Noh Ok-hee, Ulsan’s education superintendent, greets a group of Afghan students at the entrance of Seoboo Elementary on Monday. (Yonhap)
While the spring semester began at the start of March, admission for the Afghan evacuee students was delayed due to administrative procedures including immunization mandates for school entry, according to the school. 

Since February, when the Afghan families settled down in the Ulsan administrative district of Seoboo-dong, some parents of existing students at Seoboo Elementary had protested the admission of the Afghan children to the school. 

They claimed the addition of such a large group of refugee students would have a negative impact on the school’s learning environment, and demanded they be assigned to foreign schools.

Ulsan’s education office, however, stuck with the original plan, saying, “The office doesn’t have the authority to arbitrarily change an individual student’s school assignment, overriding the address-based system.” All elementary school-age children whose residential address is in Seoboo-dong district are assigned to Seoboo Elementary. 

Paper bags filled with welcome gifts given to the Afghan students feature their names written in Korean. (Yonhap)
Paper bags filled with welcome gifts given to the Afghan students feature their names written in Korean. (Yonhap)
Responding to the backlash from the parents, the education office said it would dispatch educational support staff, including Korean language instructors and school counselors, to each school that accepted the Afghan students, as part of its efforts to help them adapt to school life.

“We will continue to support the Afghan students to help them receive a proper education. We thank both parents and the schools’ faculty members for their consideration and efforts to ensure that the Afghan evacuees’ children enter public schools here,” said Noh Ok-hee, Ulsan’s education superintendent. 

Referred to as “special contributors,” a total of 391 Afghans who worked for worked for the South Korean embassy in Kabul, the state-run Korea International Cooperation Agency or other Korean humanitarian missions in Afghanistan, were airlifted to South Korea following the Taliban takeover in August last year. They include medical professionals, vocational trainers, IT experts and interpreters and their family members. 

Among them, 29 were hired by a subcontractor of the Ulsan-based shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. and moved into company housing provided by the firm, along with their family members.

By Choi Jae-hee (cjh@heraldcorp.com)
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