An electrifying eduction
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Sudo Electric Technical High School located in Gaepodong, Gangnam in Seoul, has been one wonder after another. The principal’s room is called the “celebration room.”
The room got its name because it is reserved for parties celebrating a student landing a job or receiving an award. Snacks and drinks are prepared, and the wall screen is lit up with congratulatory message from school principal Jhang Dong-won. The student becomes the star of the day.
The school is different from others in many ways. Its corridor walls are decorated with Van Gogh paintings. The paintings are not color prints of the masterpieces, but master imitation works. Students become familiar with great works of art. The corridors are decorated to give a gallery-like ambience.
The school auditorium is called Sirius Hall, the gym is named after Chung Yak-yong, and the library was christened as the Hyeyoom Pavillion. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky, and the naming reflects the aspiration for the students to shine bright.
Chung is a famous scientist, inventor, and engineer from the 18th century who incorporated technology and the humanities. The pioneer was set as an inspiration to the vocational school students. Hyeyoom is a Korean word meaning thinking.
All 710 trees in the school compound bears a name tag. Many know little about trees. But here, each tree explains their origin. They are not “a” or “the” tree, but a lilac tree or a Judas tree. The tennis court is open to the public after dark. The school façade is just a part of the change.
As soon as Jhang headed the school in 2018, sweeping changes were made. The retired executive of Korea Electric Power Corp. (Kepco) wished to turn the school into a place students can study as if at home.
He replaced the school windows with double-pane glass and renovated the school auditorium together with a new name. Kim Bong-jin, founder of the country’s pioneering food delivery app Baedal Minjok, was one of the guests to speak on the podium.
Kim, an alumni of the school, gave away 600 tablet PCs to students the school soon after he made the speech. Navy Chief Master Sergeant Han Joo-ho, who died during Cheonan rescue mission, also graduated from the school. A statue of him stands at the school, which goes back 98 years.
Jhang explains his vision for the school along with the inauguration speech on the bulletin board of the “celebration room.” His inauguration speech was made up of just two sentences.
“A school where teachers are happy because students are happy; a school where students are happy because teachers are happy.” His school has indeed turned into the vision. It has become a place where students wish to study and stay. Students salute their principal with bright faces and smiles. The headmaster returns greetings with a beaming smile.
As a school administrator, he also has been making strides. The goal of grooming talent that will lead the future energy industry is on track. The employment rate of graduates is 90.2 percent.
They join not just mid-sized companies, but Kepco and other state utility firms as well as big names like Samsung Electronics, POSCO, Hyundai and Oilbank. Some are courted from sophomore year.
They are chased because they can be deployed to the field immediately. Tests must be taken to enter the school due to excess applicants. If they drop out, they return to general schools.
The changes were possible because former corporate executives became responsible for school management. Companies hunger for skilled manpower.
Young people cannot find jobs upon graduation. There must be more efficient and creative vocational schools like Sudo school. School innovation can last, as proven by Jhang’s experiment, and must spread and continue.