Monday, March 12, 2012

New School Seeks to Embrace Multiracial Children

Only 15 students per grade, no tuition fees and classes taught in multiple languages -- it sounds like a school parents can only dream of. That dream has become reality in Seoul with the opening of an extraordinary school for students and parents whose life stories differ from Korea's homogenous norm.

The School of Global SARANG in Seoul, sarang meaning "love" in Korean," opened March 2 as Korea's first private school for multi-ethnic elementary school children. Students typically have a Korean father and a foreign-born mother, hailing from such countries as Ghana, China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines.

According to government statics, more than 1.2 million foreign workers and immigrants live in Korea, with some 30,000 elementary, middle and high school students here the children of immigrants. In Seoul alone, 5,222 multicultural students were enrolled in elementary, middle, and high schools in 2010, with that number increasing 31 percent to 6,837 last year.

The School of Global SARANG emphasizes specialized programs that give validation to diverse cultures. In addition to a basic Korean school curriculum, it offers after-school classes in Korean, English, Chinese and the students' mother languages. The makeup of the student body is expected to be 80 percent multicultural and 20 percent Korean. By opening day, 70 children had enrolled.

Resources at the six-floor school facility include eight teachers and a library holding more than 20,000 books. The students have Internet capabilities in Korean, English and their native languages. Classes will be taught by Korean-speakers, English-speakers and instructors of other languages.

"In order to obtain foreign language skills effectively, early childhood education is crucial," said principal Kim Young-seok. "We wish that the school will assist Koreans to understand the value and the importance of a multicultural and multiracial society."

The acknowledgement of and sensitivity toward multi-ethnicity arose after a steady inflow of migrant workers to Korea to take up jobs shunned by locals, and recently as more Korean men from rural farming towns have wed foreign wives. Dr. Kim Hae-sung, the founder and chairman of SARANG, counseled and assisted migrant workers for more than 20 years, earning him the nickname "the godfather of foreign laborers," and felt their children were growing up neglected.

Various surveys indicate about 60 percent of children from multi-ethnic families attend elementary school, but that rate drops to 40 percent and 30 percent for middle and high school, respectively. Many of these parents, who are often poor with irregular employment or even expired legal status here, cannot send their children to school, according to Kim.

In 2007, he embarked on a project to build a school specifically for such children. His early efforts went to finding the land on which to build the school and finding the financial resources to run it. He started with a preschool, then an after-school program. In March of last year, he opened SARANG, which was eventually accredited by the Seoul Board of Education to start the 2012 academic year.

"It's a great project,” said Sid Kim, the director of private after-school institute Wise Education in Seoul. Also a member of the Seoul Rotary Club, Kim said the club raises money to support multinational and mixed race children and is planning a large fund-raiser.

SARANG does not ask whether the foreign parent is a legal immigrant in Korea. The point is that these children, who are often ostracized for looking different and sidelined because of poverty, should not be denied their right to education, Kim Hae-sung believes.

Kim himself is raising three orphaned children who attend the school. "I know a lot of children come from troubled backgrounds -- divorce or handicaps --- but they need an education, too," he said, adding he wants to give them "every opportunity to succeed."
"It is an anachronism to insist on the idea of a racially homogenous nation," he said.

Not everyone agrees with Kim's way of helping, however. Robert Ouwehand, a Canadian married to a Korean, sees SARANG as a sign of segregation. Speaking on a radio program, he described how children from intermarriages between Korean and non-Korean parents can become further ostracized or bullied because they cannot speak Korean well.

"This is a wrong-minded approach," said Ouwehand, who is the father of a multiracial infant. "We're not interacting."

From: The Korea Times, March 12, 2012

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