Excursions no longer relevant

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Excursions no longer relevant


Lee Kwang-ho

The tragic Sewol ferry sinking that shocked and pained the entire country because it was an unprecedented accident that victimized teenagers begs us to reconsider the tradition of sending entire school grades on long-distance trips. The Sewol ferry sailing toward southern Jeju Island, carried 325 second-year students of Danwon High School in Ansan, a satellite city of Seoul. Only 75 were rescued. Many are still missing and their parents and the public still pray they are miraculously alive somewhere.

High school trips are usually organized during the second year as the final senior year is devoted to preparing for college entrance examinations. The annual trips have been questioned many times.

First of all, school trips no longer have educational meaning. They were memorable school experience in the days when family trips weren’t common. For the generation whose school days were in the 1970s and 1980s, spending a few nights away from home in the company of friends and teachers was a valuable experience. But today’s teenage generation is different. School travel in big groups planned mostly out of convenience and custom without safety considerations offers no more than temporary relief from the pressure of studies.

Second, school trips no longer serve any educational purpose. They are products of habit. The trip the ill-fated Ansan students were on was no different. According to one report, Danwon High School has been using the same travel agency and motel under the same terms for the past three years. After earlier trips, only 57 percent of students said they were were satisfied. Yet students were again forced to travel by sea instead of air. They were to tour the same sites, and given the same free time and performances in the evening. All school trips run on the same routine. No one ever thought of changing the dreary trip itinerary to better serve educational purposes.

Third, school trips cannot but carry safety risks because they are accompanied by non-professionals. Students travel in large groups ? each grade has about 300 students ? so outside help is necessary to assist a handful of teachers who have the responsibility of overseeing a large number of students. The outside help often is neither educated nor professional. In order to contain a large group, students usually must follow tight and strict instructions. Because of budgeting, lodging and food are rarely decent. The trips instead tempt students to seek their own night time excursions and diversions. Overseas trips also raise problems of excessive travel costs for students and highlights the gap among schools in different neighborhoods and regions. School trips overall have generated more harm than good. In February, the Education Ministry recommended to local education officials that schools restrict trips to four classes or less than 150 students at one time.

But most schools ignored the advice due to budget restrictions and inconvenience. The Sewol disaster raised awareness that safety of our children should come first. Large-group excursions should be abolished or arranged as alternative educational courses. Instead of makeshift or feigned modifications, field programs should be revamped in a completely different style. Teachers and students should be allowed to plan extracurricular activities and use their creativity to make the experiences valuable and meaningful. Instead of dumping on our old tradition, we should tap the imagination of our young generation to build a new tradition. The rush of cancellations and abolition of school trips could deal a heavy blow to the tourism industry. But we cannot risk our young people’s lives for the sake of the economy. Trips have no meaning if parents can’t feel safe about sending children away on a trip.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 25, Page 26.

*The author is a professor of youth studies at Kyonggi University.

By Lee Kwang-ho

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