For moms, online help for kids and college

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For moms, online help for kids and college


Members of the online community Gukjain, most of whom are mothers with children preparing for the College Scholastic Ability Test, exchange information on the complicated university admissions system on Feb. 18 at the community’s office in Daechi-dong, southern Seoul. Lee Mi-ae, second from left, who founded the group, said she wants to help mothers who lack information on university admissions so they won’t have to depend on expensive private institutes. By Byun Sun-goo

For Lee Hyeong-suk, a 44-year-old mother in Iksan, North Jeolla, it took three hours to get to Seocho-dong, southern Seoul.

Once she got off the bus, she headed to an office in Daechi-dong to participate in an orientation session about university admission policies.

But she gladly endured her long journey in hopes of getting useful information for her 18-year-old son, who will take the College Scholastic Ability Test this year.

Lee is a member of the online community Gukjain, where members, most of whom are mothers, can exchange information not only about university admission but also overseas internship programs or language courses.

“In the suburbs, mothers lack information on university admissions and the quality of the internship programs or language courses are is poor,” Lee said. “Because I was so worried, I joined Gukjain last summer.”

The group holds monthly orientations and presentations on the latest university admission policies at the office in Daechi-dong, called Gukhwa, where Lee meets other members in Seoul and exchanges information with them. Members who want to participate in these sessions pay 20,000 won ($17) for each one.

In the online community, when a member posts a question, other members, who act as mentors, go to work investigating the matter and find the answers.

“I am always worried about my children’s university admission, but now I don’t need any professional consultants, thanks to Gukjain,” said Kim Ji-yeon, another 44-year-old mother.

Lee Mi-ae, 49, said she founded Gukjain in 2009 with five other mothers in an effort to provide mentoring for mothers by offering stories of their own experiences with trial and error.

“Korean parents have a strong zeal for educating their children, but most of them are easily lured by expensive private institutes or education consultants that say they have all the information,” Lee said. “I believed that if all mothers shared information with each other, they would not be targeted by private institutes or consultants.”

Lee said Gukjain helps mothers in various ways: launching study groups for mothers whose children are preparing for university admission; offering mentoring programs in which mothers whose children are entering universities give advice to other mothers via online or in person meetings; inviting a professional consultant to the office to provide tips on university admission; holding a mock UN meeting for middle and high school students.

According to Gukjain, the number of admission policies for universities nationwide exceeds 3,600. And the new admissions officer system, which allows universities to select students based on their extracurricular activities or language ability, is also confusing to many prospective applicants.

Furthermore, the Education Ministry launched a new subject called “creative experience” in the curriculum of all elementary, middle and high schools, which focuses on exposing students to diverse extracurricular activities and giving them opportunities for volunteer experience.

Private institutes and consultants charge students and their families millions of won for their advice on education. One education consultant, for example, offered a program to help students prepare for the “creative experience” class at a cost of 700,000 won.

“If a mother doesn’t know anything about the admission system and follows what private institutes or education consultants say, it can be a problem,” Lee said. “The person who knows a child is their mother. She should study the university admission system with her children and share the information she found with other mothers, to increase her knowledge.”

Some members are even becoming more knowledgeable than professional education consultants, the founder said, at finding free extracurricular programs for students, which are better than the expensive private courses that education consultants are selling.

“We found some of the same programs that consultants are promoting with expensive prices are conducted in universities for free,” said Choe Seon-yeong, a 44-year-old member.

Asked why she didn’t make money by opening her own education consultancy, Lee, the Gukjain founder said, “I ran my own consultancy for a year after my son entered university, but I couldn’t bear to take money from parents who have children like me.”

Lee said she hasn’t received any funds from private institutes.

“An owner of a popular private institute suggested to me that he wants to launch a banner advertising the institute on our homepage, but I rejected it,” Lee said. “The Gukjain community is where mothers share information on their own, not where private institutes advertise themselves.”

The Web site of Gukjain is

By Park Su-ryon []

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3만 명이 가입한 네이버카페 ‘국자인(국제교류와 자원봉사와 인턴십과 비교과,’의 이미애(49) 대표와 엄마들이 그 주인공이다. 국자인의 모토는 ‘정보는 공유하고 배워서 남 주자’이다. 2년 전 아들을 연세대에 보낸 이씨는 “내가 겪은 시행착오를 다른 엄마들이 되풀이하지 않도록 정보를 나눠야 한다는 의미”라고 말했다. 그래서 국자인은 3만 명이 각자 정보를 올려야만 회원자격이 유지된다.

국자인 카페 에선 대입을 치른 엄마 10여 명이 ‘드림 코디네이터’로 나서 온라인 입시 상담을 해준다. 코디로 나선 엄마들이 3~4시간씩 고민한 끝에 달아주는 답글은 사설 컨설팅업체 못지않게 전문적이다. 올해 고3 엄마가 된 김지연(44)씨는 “입시 종류가 너무 많아 걱정했는데 컨설팅업체를 찾을 필요도 없어졌다”고 말했다.

 국자인은 지난달 교육 1번지로 불리는 서울 강남구 대치동에 중·고생 엄마를 위한 사무실도 열었다. 학원가를 전전하는 엄마들이 ‘알짜 입시정보’를 주고받을 사랑방을 만든 것이다. 이씨와 올해 딸을 이화여대에 보낸 권희숙(44)씨 등 ‘고3 엄마’를 졸업한 7명은 이곳에서 번갈아 상주하며 올해 고3 엄마들에게 대입 노하우를 전하고 있다. 엄마들에게 대학별 입시요강 분석 방법을 알려주고 시기별로 어떤 준비가 필요한지 설명해 준다. 입학사정관 전형에 대비해 진로에 맞는 비교과 활동 정보도 모아놓고 있다. 권씨는 “지난해 복잡한 입시요강을 보고 너무 막막했었다”며 “고 3 엄마의 심정을 잘 알기에 봉사를 하기로 했다”고 말했다.

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