Alternative education requires systematic support from the government

신태섭 기자l승인2019.06.24

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▲ President Hantae Kim

An alternative school is an educational establishment with a curriculum and methods that are nontraditional. Alternative schools see the limitations of systematized education and try to offer a wide range of philosophies and teaching methods. There have been many efforts and trials in introducing and developing alternative education in South Korea for about 20 years and the effort was resulted in the Korea Federation of Alternative Schools in 2016. <Power Korea> heard from Hanate Kim, the president of the federation. 

Education is about finding and promoting one’s aptitude and talent
Education is very important for a nation to foster sound young future talents. The advent of public education among private education back in the days was a reflection of this need. Yet there are still young ones who are exclusive of this public education and they are dropouts, multicultural family and North Korean defectors. The advent of alternative schools, therefore, was only natural to fill up this gap. 

Hantae Kim, the president of the Korea Federation of Alternative Schools, was born to a poor rural family. He saw the Liberation at the age 13 and was a volunteer soldier during the Korean War. When serving in the army afterwards, he enrolled in a night course at a college and obtained a teacher’s certificate. Seeing his life did not improve much, he started a tricycle business and put up a recruitment notice. Most of the candidates were illiterate and he rather started to teach them. It was 1972. 

This one-man teaching spread from mouth to mouth and some willing university students joined him to give aid. It was Yeongdeungpo District but the school moved to Hwagok-dong in Gwangseo District due to urban redevelopment. The school now became Seongji Middle and High School and it is meaningful that he initiated the conception ‘alternative schools’ in South Korea. Since its establishment, Seongji Middle and High School has fostered around 17,000 students: 60% young students and 40% adults. 

“It is regretful that Korea still practices the education system the colonial Japanese planted: 6 years of elementary, 3 years of both middle and high schools and 4 years of university. The age tells us to break the mold that whoever is capable can finish elementary in 3 years and so on and do what they want to do afterwards. The core of alternative schools is ‘autonomous and self-directed learning’ in opposed to the current exam-driven rote learning.”

“It is also regretful that Koreans are very talented but their talents become nothing when they grew up because our education system is not designed to promote the different talent of each student but only ‘exam’ and ‘top university’. This is the reason why alternative schools can be educational alternative.”

The Korea Federation of Alternative Schools embraces around 500 alternative school members in Korea. They exchange information on curriculum, provide opportunities for excellent students to study overseas and expand scope of training such as to baking, cooking and IT. 

“It is important for the government to provide systematic support for alternative schools like the Finish government does. We can learn from it and benchmark the system. As part of this effort, the Korea Federation of Alternative Schools is working on pushing the lawmakers to speedily precede the Alternative School Promotion Act (tentative).” 

We are living in the age where people from the world trade each other and live together. It is reported that there are about 2.3 million foreign residents in Korea and many of them are now multicultural families. What it means is that Koreans now need to accept the children and students of these multicultural families as in the boundary of ‘Koreans’ and provide equal opportunities for education. 

Kim adds “Education should be autonomous and self-directed and they are the two virtuous values of alternative schools. We need to see what the age wants from educators and the Ministry of Education should find a way to equally and effectively distribute its budget if Korea is to meet the coming age of new education.” 


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