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Adult Education Credentials at Yangwon Elementary

Posted March. 07, 2005 22:39,   


“Studying makes a human being more humane. Now all of you will never feel the need to feel intimidated by an educated person anymore.”

As soon as the principal’s speech began, the 280 freshmen students filling the underground school auditorium began to be teary-eyed.

Yangwon Elementary School, which opened its doors on March 7, is the first adult elementary school in Korea that distributes education credentials.

The credentials for adult schools, which were possible only starting from middle schools and high schools, became available to elementary schools with the revision of the lifelong learning policy, allowing this school to open with the three semesters-per-year policy that started in January 2004.

On receiving a permit from the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development in January of 2005, this school filled a capacity of 280 students in less than a month of registration. Class fees are 50,000 won per month. Eight teachers, including retired elementary teachers, instruct the students.

Because of the simple admission qualification that only demands an applicant be over 12 years of age, the students have come from all walks of life.

Park Joong-eun, a grandmother of 81 years old, spoke of an education cut short in the first grade in grammar school, recollecting, “My father forbade me to go to school because they started teaching Japanese instead of Korean,” and reminisced, “In my child’s heart, I still wanted to keep learning, even Japanese.”

She added, “If chance allows it, I want to go to middle school and teach what I learn from the children.”

Kim Ok-soon, a 74-year-old grandmother who lives in Mangwon-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul and has never set foot inside a classroom, being born on a poverty-stricken farm, also confessed, “Between the restaurant chores and selling tteokbokki, I did manage to learn a bit of lettering from my kids who went to college, but frankly, I was so embarrassed,” and said, “I am very happy because I now have the opportunity to learn properly.”

The youngest admitted applicant was a youth in the early thirties who suffered a head injury at three and whose intelligence remains at that of a 9-year-old, but chose to learn again and applied.

School senior supervisor Jang Jin-sook (47) said, “The energy of the freshmen is extreme, to the point of commuting on the train from Gyeongsang Province, or relinquishing their life’s work.”

Lee Jung-sook, a 61-year-old woman who inaugurated the new school year as freshmen representative, gave a shy smile and said, “I practiced for a week because I didn’t know Korean, but it just doesn’t come out right.”

After the morning admission celebration, the students headed for the assigned classrooms and met their homeroom teachers. The students received seven textbooks such as Korean, Mathematics, Good Habits Happy Habits, among other books. The textbooks are identical to the ones first graders in elementary schools use.

At the end of the day, led by the teacher in saying farewell in unison, the students herded around the teacher.

“Is there homework?” “Is there school tomorrow?” “I didn’t get my books” and other endless questions poured out, making the picture of just an average elementary school.

Jae-Dong Yu jarrett@donga.com ditto@donga.com