A school that provides the freedom to learnGoing to CheongShim International Middle and High School was like going to a picnic in a suburb of Seoul. After driving on winding roads for about two hours and passing Lake Cheongpyeong, the school appeared, standing grandly amid the mountains. The school opened this year, and therefore has only freshman classes, 100 students for each grade.
CheongShim is a private school affiliated with the Unification Church whose aim is to combine the strengths of both Korean and Western educational systems. “We intend to provide educations by global professionals and altruistic leaders according to the core ideas of Korean education, and fostering creative knowledge, which is more advanced in Western education,” said Lee Jong-hyo, the principal.
In order to be global leaders, of course, language matters. All classes, except for Korean literature and history classes, are taught in English, and students must learn a second foreign language: Chinese, Japanese or Spanish. Nine of the 35 teachers are foreigners, and most of the Korean teachers have studied abroad. Students not only talk with the teachers in English, but also with each other whenever they met in the hallways outside class.
The school also teaches in a more Socratic method rather than using the Korean tried-and-true cramming style.
“I didn’t express my opinion in elementary school even though I wanted to,” said Eo Wan, a middle school freshman. “You know, classmates just thought that I was trying to look smart if I did so. But here, I can say whatever I think, whether it’s wrong or not, freely, and it’s really good.”
There are even a few foreign students. “My son [Daniel Gabb] is the only Western student in this school,” said Stephen Gabb, who teaches English literature at CheongShim International High School. Mr. Gabb, one of the foreign teachers at the school, said that Daniel, a high school freshman, had to struggle at first to adjust to the different education system ― Korean education focuses more on academic matters than on sports or creative arts, he explained.
“I think it’s very important for Korean students to be exposed to the rest of the world [at an earlier age],” said Mr. Gabb, adding that he’d like to see more interaction between Korean and foreign students at the school.
Mr. Lee understands the problem. “We initially planned to accept foreign students from about 10 nations to make up nearly half of the student body,” Mr. Lee said. “The diversity would have given students more chances to know about other culture, as well as strengthen the global human network.” Unfortunately, however, the government nixed the plan and only permitted foreign students to comprise 2 percent of the student body.
In order to foster global leaders as well as regional experts, the students must complete a team project, which entails choosing a subject, researching it and then writing a thesis paper on the issue. Each team consists of four to six students and two advisors (one school teacher and one university professor). The school even provides 5 million won ($5,300) in research funds for each project. The 19 groups discuss such topics as a “Comparison of Korean and American youngsters,” “Future marketing strategy and school publicity,” “Analysis of current fashion trends,” and “Stocks and the economy.”
The students live together in dormitories, two to a room, though they are given a great degree of freedom ― some refuse to go back home. Middle school students go home on the second and last weekend of every month, while high school students leave only on the last weekend. But not all students say they appreciate the freedom.
“I have to do everything by myself. I can’t ask my parents to solve my problems. That’s the difficult part of living part from parents. I lived an odd life at first ― I slept when I wanted to and it wasn’t easy to adapt myself to the school’s regulations,” Wan said. “But now, I think I know what I should do,” he said, adding that he wants to be a professor of English literature.
“We actually planned to let four students share a room,” Mr. Lee said. “If only two share a room and argue, it’s hard to resolve the trouble; if three do, one always feel isolated, thus we thought the four is the best. But this year, we only have freshmen, leaving plenty of rooms empty, and so we decided to give students more space.”
“Of course, we fight and argue,” said Jang Woo-jeong, a middle school student. “But we’re now like a big family, so we just talk and laugh the next day. Life wouldn’t be fun if we don’t fight at all, would it?”
When asked what’s their favorite meal at school, the students were unanimous: pizza. After seeing so many of the students discussing things so maturely, it was a shock to see that come meal-time, they were kids again.
The daily schedule
Morning exercise (taekwondo)
Classes or creative activities
Special lectures or study period
* Bedtime (middle school students)
* Study period (high school students)
Bedtime (high school students)
by Park Sung-ha