Going beyond difference

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Going beyond difference

In Korea, there is a group of people called “multicultural children” instead of their real names. The number of children born to one Korean and one foreign parent has increased 2.9 times to 38,000 - or 0.55 percent of all students as of 2011 - during the last five years. But our schools’ and education authorities’ lack of policies for them has resulted in various types of discrimination just because of a difference in skin color. Some of these children have become the victims of violence at their schools.

Under the circumstances, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has come up with concrete policies to educate these children, as they are valuable assets. The government’s previous policies on mixed-race children regarded them as an “alienated class” and were aimed at providing them with aid. But a recent shift in policy could mark the beginning of a significant change in the government’s approach, as it has opened the way to embrace them for their ultimate contributions to our society.

We welcome the government’s latest decision to set up “preliminary” schools across the nation so that these children can adapt to their new surroundings for six months before enrolling in regular schools. Many of these children had to be placed at regular schools close to their homes as soon as they entered the country, and have subsequently experienced great difficulty adjusting to their new school environments. Therefore, the government will also establish Korean language courses for them at elementary, middle and high schools around the country and assign mentors to each one of them to accelerate their assimilation process in an effort to substantially promote their academic performance.

In addition, the government took a groundbreaking step in enabling mixed-race students to learn their mother tongue at their schools during after-school hours, on weekends or on vacation. The government’s efforts are desirable as they may not only induce parents to participate in their children’s education but also enhance their pride as multicultural families.

But policies alone are not enough. Korean teachers and students must put these policies into action by accepting mixed-race children as their precious pupils and peers. Our school community must go way beyond simply accepting differences in skin color. Education should focus on guiding our kids to accumulate diverse experiences so they will respect the value of diversity through mixed-race students. Only when our kids overcome differences can they weather the challenging global era.


우리 사회엔 자신의 이름 대신 다문화로 불리는 아이들이 있다. 최근 5년 간 2.9배 늘어났다고 한다. 학교와 교육당국이 그간 이런 아이들을 포용할 준비조차 안 돼 있다 보니 다문화 학생들은 피부색이 다르다는 이유로 냉대를 당하고, 심지어 학교 폭력의 희생양이 되기도 했다. 이런 가운데 교육과학기술부가 어제 전국적으로 3만8000여명(전체 재학생의 0.55%)에 달하는 다문화 학생들을 우리의 소중한 인재로 키우겠다는 정책을 내놓았다. 그 간의 정책 기조가 이 학생들을 소외계층으로 보고 시혜를 베푸는 정도에 그쳤다면 이제는 다문화 학생들을 끌어안고 공동체에 기여토록 길을 열었다는 점에서 의미 있는 정책 변화라고 할 수 있다. 다문화 학생이 정규 학교에 배정되기 전 6개월 가량 사전 적응 교육을 받을 수 있는 예비학교를 전국적으로 두는 정책은 잘 한 일이다. 그 동안 다문화 학생이 입국하면 무작정 거주지 인근 정규 학교로 배치되는 바람에 첫단추부터 잘못 끼워지는 일이 자주 있었다. 전국 초·중·고에 다문화 학생을 위한 한국어교육과정을 설치하고, 모든 학생에게 멘토를 붙인 것도 학교가 아이들의 적응 문제뿐 아니라 기초학력도 꼼꼼히 챙기겠다는 취지다. 특히 일반 학생들도 원한다면 학교에서 방학이나 주말, 방과후 교육 등을 통해 다문화 가정의 모국어를 배울 수 있게 한 조치도 획기적이다. 다문화 가정이 지닌 재능을 그냥 썩이지 않고, 모두 함께 누릴 수 있게 해 다문화 학생의 자긍심을 높여주는 동시에 학부모의 참여를 유도했다는 점에서 바람직하다. 이제 이처럼 제도적 환경이 갖춰졌다면 학교 교사와 학생들이 다문화 학생들을 소중한 제자, 동료로서 받아들이고, 협력하도록 하는 실천 과제가 남았다. 단순히 피부색과 문화의 차이를 인정하는데 그치는 교육이면 여전히 부족하다. 우리 주위에 늘어나는 다문화 학생들을 통해 다양성을 존중하는 경험을 쌓게 하는 교육이어야 한다. 우리 아이들이 다름을 넘어서야 글로벌 시대를 헤쳐나갈 수 있다.  
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