Robotics students shoot for the future

2013-10-11 20:33

High school life in Korea is imbued with difficulties, mostly stemming from the omnipresent social furor to garner admission letters from top colleges.

Sacrificing sleep, a balanced life, and socializing is just a fact of life for many youths.

But for students at the Seoul Robotics High School, robots have convinced them that going to college doesn’t have to dictate everything in their high school lives.

Seoul Robotics High School students show their self-assembled unmanned aerial vehicles. They are members of the school’s nationally acclaimed UAV club. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Calling themselves “robot maniacs,” students cited the opportunity to develop themselves into robot experts as the main motivation in coming to this technology school. The focused curriculum includes classes in robot computer programming, robot software development, and even robot economics.

The school was founded in 1994 and began to specialize in robotics in 2005. It was named this year as a meister high school, a secondary education system that specializes in sending graduates directly to corporations requiring workers with particular skills.

The designation has helped attract students. Powerhouse conglomerates including Samsung, Hyundai, and KT have drafted its graduates with hands-on experience into their workforce.

“Meister high schools match their curricula to the specific demands from external corporations. So the learning materials students use here at Seoul Robotics will naturally be tailored to fit company HR needs such as programming and robot development,” said Ro Tae-seok, principal of Seoul Robotics High School.

A meister high school education also comes packed with intangible benefits and scholarship incentives. Field experts from major companies come to the school to offer weekly robot classes while tuition, admittance fees, and other payments are waived.

“I plan on financing my college education with my own money. So, studying and learning to go work after high school, from where I can save money and later attend college, fits well into my future career path,” said 16-year-old Kook Song-yi, one of its 580 students.

Even extracurricular activities at the school were specifically designed to fit the robot-centered education system, with an award-winning student Unmanned Aerial Vehicle club and a robot-technology development program in which students learned to re-format existing robots.

But like many other teens, students at the high school were not without their own set of worries. Anxiety over the still-existent social stereotype against high-school diploma holders, and rumors that alumni working at Samsung were receiving less-than-flattering treatment because of their lack of a college degree troubled current students. In fact, the meister school system obligates students to forfeit going directly to college after graduation in return for the benefits they receive.

Laudable all the more, then, was the students’ courage to not lose faith in their commitment to become robot pundits despite the realities they face.

Lee Gun-chang, a second-year student told The Korea Herald that he understood where he was.

“I know the deal I am partaking in as a student here,” he said. “But I am content with where I am and where I am headed because robots have been something I’ve been fascinated with for a long time.”

By Jeong Hunny (hj257@heraldcorp.com)