Students from a small county beat city kids in essay contest

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Students from a small county beat city kids in essay contest

Middle school students in a small county with only 32,000 residents beat out urban students to win first prize in a national essay competition.
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“We gained more confidence because it was proven that we are as good as students living in the Gangnam district of Seoul,” said Kim Su-yeon, 15, one of 10 students in the Bisang (Flying High) essay writing team.
The nine other team members are Kang Ji-hye, Kim So-jin, Seol Lu-na, Yang Jin-hwa, Lee So-hui, Lee Hyeon-hi, Han Cho-won, Park Hyeon-mo and Jeong Jae-gyun. They attend Sunchang Middle School and Sunchang Girls’ Middle School in Sunchang county, North Jeolla province.
The team won first prize in the middle school category in the inaugural National Student Essay Competition, which was sponsored by the Beautiful School Movement Association. Former Education ministers Yoon Deok-hong and Lee Myung-hyun are two of the directors of the association.
Over 50,000 elementary, middle and high school students took part in the competition. In the middle school category, 10 teams received first prizes, but there was no winner of the grand prize.
Middle school students in Sunchang county became the dark horse in the competition due to the county’s strong support and the passionate guidance of lecturer Choi Eun-ah, 31. The 10 students have been getting free essay writing lessons from a scholarship education center called Okcheon Injaesuk, which was opened in 2003. The center was created to nurture talented students in the county.
Ms. Choi was a Korean language teacher in private educational institutions in Seoul, but she wanted to live with her mother in Jangseong county, South Jeolla province. So in 2005, she switched her job and began working at Okcheon Injaesuk in 2005.
The coaching process began with a one-hour discussion on a different current event every week. Ms. Choi asked them to read related books and newspaper articles in advance, to prepare for the class. She also encouraged them to set aside an hour every week to write an essay. The students posted their writing on her blog and she made corrections.
After a year, the students’ writing improved dramatically, she said. They voluntarily clipped newspaper articles, read them with other students and discussed the topics.
“Rather than teaching them unnecessary tricks, we focused on reading and formulating ideas, and this seems to have been effective,” Ms. Choi said. Ms. Choi said it is possible to improve essay writing skills without living in large cities, if students can take advantage of the Internet.
“Through reading and discussion, I gained an interest in social issues. My ability to reason improved and this helped me with my writing,” Ms. Kim said.
Sunchang county spends 1 billion won ($108,690) on Okcheon Injaesuk annually. In addition to teaching essay writing, the educational center brings lecturers from large cities nearby to teach 50 students selected from each middle and high school level. The three-hour class, mostly on Korean, English and mathematics, begins after school at 7 p.m.


by Jang Dae-suk
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