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Young defectors from N. Korea struggle to adapt to S. Korean schools

The number of North Korean defectors attending South Korea‘s elementary and secondary schools stood at 2,538 as of April 2017, marking a 270 percent increase from 687 in 2007, figures from the education ministry showed Saturday.

Of the total, 1,027 defector students, or 40.5 percent, were attending elementary schools, while 785 students, or 30.9 percent, were enrolled in middle schools and 726 students, or 28.6 percent, in high schools, the figures showed. The remaining 226 students were enrolled in alternative educational facilities.

Despite the growth in numbers, however, Ministry of Education officials say many defector students have difficulties at South Korean schools due to disparities in language and culture.

Students attend a class in an elementary school in South Korea. (Yonhap)
Students attend a class in an elementary school in South Korea. (Yonhap)


For instance, the drop-out rate for North Korean defector students fell to 2 percent last year from 10.8 percent in 2007 but still remained higher than the national average of less than 1 percent, they noted.

The drop-out rate for defector students attending high schools was the highest at 4.3 percent, followed by 1.8 percent at middle schools and 1 percent at elementary schools, they added.


Young escapees arriving here from North Korea are assigned to South Korean schools after a state scholastic committee screens their academic records achieved in the North and other countries.


Usually, North Korean defectors are grouped with younger South Korean students at schools under the current screening system.


“In most cases, defector students lack basic academic abilities as they spent much time as refugees in third-party countries,” said a teacher at a Seoul elementary school.


He said defector students born in China and other third-party countries generally have more difficulties adapting to the Korean language and culture. According to ministry figures, the number of North Korean defector students who were born outside the Korean Peninsula was 1,437 as of last year, accounting for 56.6 percent of all defector students.


The corresponding figure for 2012 was 708 students, or 35.5 percent. (Yonhap)

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