Korea’s duty to its multiethnic children

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Korea’s duty to its multiethnic children

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Lately, we frequently see foreigners who speak fluent Korean on television. They have mastered the language, and they usually come to Korea to work or study without experiencing financial difficulties. But many more foreign residents in Korea experience hardships because of limited Korean proficiency.

“I don’t speak Korean very well, so I have trouble helping my kids with homework or preparing school supplies,” said a mother of a multiethnic family. “One day, my son came home from school and asked me why I was Mongolian and not Korean.” She is not the only one struggling to raise kids in an unfamiliar culture. Korea is the second home for immigrants who marry Koreans. But even after living here for several years, many cannot obtain proficiency in Korean. And with limited vocabulary and pronunciation, they find it hard to get involved in their children’s education.

According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, there were 31,788 students from multiethnic backgrounds in elementary, middle and high school in 2010 - a five-fold increase from 2005. If the trend continues, about 20 percent of Korea’s youth is expected to come from multiethnic families by 2020. The number of multiethnic children is growing rapidly, but so is their drop-out rate. While 85 percent attend elementary school, only 60 percent of multiethnic children go to middle school and merely 30 percent move on to high school.

The cause is low language proficiency. Children who grow up in multiethnic families often lack Korean language skills, and they often have trouble following along in class and getting along with classmates. Furthermore, more than 40 percent of multiethnic families live in poor rural villages. Many parents are busy making ends meet and are unable to be actively involved in education or child care. Some children are virtually neglected at home or in the streets.

The Ministry of Public Administration and Security and three other government agencies are working together to standardize Korean education for multiethnic families, and more educational centers are being opened, growing from 76 to more than 300. Yet their impact will be limited. There is no ministry in charge of general support and assistance for multiethnic families. Young children from multicultural backgrounds who are fluent in their native languages will be valuable assets for Korea. The country is neglecting its duty if it fails to give them a chance to shine.

*The writer is the chairman of the Chungcheong Forum


By Sung Wan-jong
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