SNUE Takes Lead in Quest for Multicultural Society
By Kang Shin-who
With the growing number of interracial families in Korea, schools need more teachers who are well-trained in taking care of multicultural children, educationalists say. Changing the education environment for a multicultural society needs to start from elementary schools, they add.
Seoul National University of Education (SNUE), a higher education institute that specializes in fostering primary school teachers, has taken the lead in creating various programs to deal with the surge of mixed children into elementary schools.
Song Kwang-yong, president of the university, explained the school's "Triangle Partnership" program, which centers on setting up a successful multicultural education environment at primary schools.
"Interracial children are rapidly increasing and elementary schools are the first to be affected by this trend. Our university should be the first to change, and our school is the first to introduce multicultural education programs among Korean universities," Song said in an interview with The Korea Times at his office last Thursday.
"Our school's programs for multicultural education are focusing on three main bodies of education: teachers, students and parents. It's a good example for other universities."
Under the programs, teachers receive orientation on how to take better care of children from interracial households, and bilingual teachers are being taught how to efficiently communicate with children from immigrants.
For students, the university has introduced a camp program which invites children and teachers as mentors. The programs also provide Korean-language classes for preschoolers and elementary school students as well as after-school courses educating those who cannot properly speak Korean-language or have fallen behind.
Lastly, it has created programs that educate parents of the interracial children so that they can adapt to Korean society and at the same time help their children overcome any discrimination and bias they may encounter. Multi-language guidance books about the Korean school system and life have also been published.
According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the number of children from multicultural families in Korea has more than tripled over the past three years up to 18,778 last year from 6,121 in 2005.
Many of the children have difficulties adapting to schools while around 15 percent of them stop attending schools and instead opt to give up their studies. With this problematic situation, the ministry has allotted about 5.8 billion won ($4.6 million) to the project this year.
"Our university is also working together with the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education in training foreign parents, who can teach multicultural children at schools," Song said.
The specialized university has hosted a number of symposiums and academic conferences on establishing a better education environment and has had school students counsel interracial children who have trouble fitting in.
More Intensive English Programs
The English education system of the university has also been significantly changed to cope with the improvement of English education at elementary schools. The school has introduced more English-only courses with immersion programs and it is running a global language institute in cooperation with the British Council.
The university is seeking to make a partnership with primary schools on U.S. army bases here. Under the plan, SNUE would exchange some 20 of its students with teachers from the American schools, Song explained.
Song also stressed that Korean teachers should replace native English-speaking teachers as soon as possible. "Currently, only 20.5 percent of native English speaking teachers (at schools) have teaching licenses (according to data from the Education Ministry, November 2008), so it is urgent for us to foster teachers who have excellent English proficiency," Song said.
"The native speakers are not qualified and are often involved in sexual harassment and drugs."
In addition, the university has expanded its relationship with overseas universities. It has created student exchange programs with 21 universities from 13 countries.
Lastly, Song called for the government to allow the university to set up a doctorate program for elementary education. "Strangely, the government has not permitted schools of teachers to run doctorate programs without any specific reasons. So, there are very limited places for graduates of the schools including us to further study elementary education. I want to set up doctorate degree courses at our university within my presidency term," said Song who has headed the university since 2007.
Established as Kyunggi Public Regular School in 1946, it was renamed Seoul National Teachers School in 1949 before switching to its current name in 1993. The university has a total of 12 undergraduate majors such as ethics education, Korean-language education, science education and English education. Under its graduate program, it offers 25 majors.
The university currently has 2,100 undergraduate students, accepting 500 new students annually, and 1,200 graduate students. The admission quota for undergraduate students is set at 25 percent for male applicants.