[Viewpoint] Educational needs of Koreans abroad

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[Viewpoint] Educational needs of Koreans abroad

Earlier this year, the National Assembly passed a bill permitting overseas Koreans aged 19 or over to vote in Korean elections. Interest is therefore naturally growing over the education of Koreans living abroad.

About 7 million Koreans live in foreign countries, or about 14 percent of the total population of Koreans. Today, 29 Korean schools operate in 14 nations, educating some 11,000 students.

Those unable to afford tuition at Korean schools go to local public schools. They comprise a large proportion of that total population.

On Oct. 26, a discussion session held at the National Assembly was attended by heads of the boards of directors and officials of Korean schools abroad. At the session, the poor state of the schools and measures to resolve them were discussed.

School officials said they had long been off the country’s radar, and asked for special attention.

Most Korean schools abroad suffer from a shortage of capable teachers, poor facilities and the lack of study materials.

When discussing assistance programs for Korean schools abroad, the key factor will be creating a national consensus over why the schools need to exist and what role they will play in the future.

One role is clear. Korean schools abroad are expected to be bridges linking Korea and the world in the era of globalization.

It will be up to us to assure that they have enough support so that their students and graduates become future leaders of the international community with capability and an understanding of their homeland. This is a far better outcome than having them emerge with hard feelings about Korean society.

Important to accomplishing this task is supplying qualified teachers.

To solve the shortage of teachers, a legal revision is being planned to send more teachers to the schools abroad, a revival of an old system.

Under the old system, the local education authorities paid for teacher salaries and for other necessary incentives. To be sure, it is difficult to find teachers with both the capability and strong sense of responsibility to meet the task. It would be best for the government to determine the exact number of teachers to be sent overseas, carefully select them and then give them the training they will need.

In order to maintain the link between Korean schools abroad and schools in Korea, and in order to dispatch more talented teachers to schools abroad, other programs should be considered.

For example, a teacher could be given priority to teach at a Korean school of his or her choice after completing an overseas assignment.

It is also necessary to invite more teachers at Korean schools abroad to visit Korea and undergo training and engage in exchange programs. Every great teacher we create will change the outcome of the education kids receive at Korean schools abroad.

Another basic task is to improve the physical condition of overseas Korean schools. While the budget to support them will double next year, it is still not enough. It is time to look for private funds and support in addition to state money. Revision of the education cost support programs for children of business officials sent overseas and tax exemptions for donations for Korean schools abroad may be small changes, but they can be expected to bring big differences.

The program of linking a company with a school must expand to Korean schools abroad, and more exchanges between the schools abroad and Korea should be pushed forward. Students at teachers’ colleges should also visit Korean schools abroad for field study and training.

Finally, it is important to actively advance cyber education programs for Korean schools abroad. The schools of remote areas in South Jeolla have seen incredible outcomes because of cyber education. The ongoing programs in Korea will offer great support for Korean schools abroad in overcoming a lack of human and financial resources.

We have provided much help to the students of biracial and multicultural families in Korea. It is now time to pay more attention to Koreans living overseas who are nurturing their patriotism by keeping their citizenship. It’s not absurd to argue that about 14 percent of the country’s education budget should be invested in Korean students living abroad.

*The writer is the president of the Gwangju National University of Education.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Nam-gi
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