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[Opinion] Numbering the Roll Call

Posted November. 12, 2003 23:07,   


In our lives, there are times that we get hurt because of orders and etiquette. If a younger boss calls us down, we feel bad, and if a colleague who is three or four years younger than us addresses us by saying “hey” or “there,” we lose our interest in responding to them. When newspaper companies announce participants of a certain ceremony, they ponder over how to set the order. The easiest way would be in an alphabetical order, but that could put the party leader after a newly elected candidate and a teacher after his student which would create an awkward situation. At every election, candidates fight to hold onto the No. 1 position, doing whatever it might take.

Elementary students will be listed in their attendance check book based on alphabetical order starting from next year. Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development has recommended changing the order of roll call from the current order based on birth dates and heights to an alphabetical order system. The ministry explains that they are accepting the people’s suggestions because there are many cases in which the students of latter numbers (older children) are bullying the students with earlier numbers since they are younger and smaller. Some might question what the big issue is about this number ordering system, but the reality is that it is important. The numbering of the students determines their seats, which determines the students’ friendships, and thus their study results.

In the U.S., the roll call follows an alphabetical order, but they never number their students with specific ones. Also, where they sit in the first class is where they will sit for the rest of the semester. In Korea, the ordering is customarily based on the students’ height. It would have derived from the realistic reasons that shorter students cannot see well if the taller students sit in front of them. Also, people avoid numbers such as four or 44 since the pronunciation of four is same as the pronunciation of the character “death” in Chinese characters, and they regard numbers which include seven to bring good luck. Numbers such as 11, 22, 33, and 55 are popular since it reminds people of “bingo” in Korean Hawtu game. Students with these numbers are called by the teachers to “play a game” in class.

According to the recommendation, students with families names of “Kang” or “Koh” (since Korean alphabet starts with the sound of ‘k’) will have the first numbers, and students with family names of “Hong” and “Hwang” (as Korean alphabet ends with the sound of ‘h’) will have the last numbers. How about putting all the decision process of numbering to the students’ discussion and self-determination? What if it is a reverse order of the alphabetical order, and what if it is by the order of students who are good at singing or sports? Odd numbers for boys and even numbers for girls: that is another good idea. Having students write down numbers that they like is also a good idea. The process of the students’ determining their own numbers through discussion and cooperation is a precious educational tool to teach democracy.

Oh, Myoeng-chul Editorial Writer oscar@donga.com