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School Religion Issue Dividing Expats

Posted July. 01, 2006 04:17,   


The expatriate community in Korea is disturbed by operation issues of Yongsan International School, which is scheduled to open in August to improve education conditions for foreigners’ children. More specifically, there are signs that this is turning into diplomatic issues because the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea (EUCCK) gave up the school foundation directorship and foreign embassies in Korea collectively sent protesting letters to the Korean government.

After the Korea Foreign Schools Foundation failed to narrow the differences over school operation with the British International School Seoul (BISS), which was chosen as a primary candidate for a school operator in 2005, they chose the International Christian School (ICS), a U.S. Christian school, as the primary candidate.

In response to this, many foreigners from the EU, Eastern Europe, Australia and New Zealand protested, saying, “We cannot understand why the foundation dropped BISS, which had already chosen teachers, and selected a U.S. Christian school.”

Following this, EUCCK notified the Korea Foreign Schools Foundation on June 28 that they would withdraw from its directorship.

A European corporate official explained that this action resulted from complaints over a sudden change in a school operator by the foundation.

Embassies of 23 countries from Europe, Asia, Oceania and the Middle East, excluding the U.S., have recently sent protesting letters to the Ministry of Finance and Economy, the Ministry of the Commerce, Industry and Energy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Concerning BISS’s dropout as a primary candidate for a school operator, the letters maintained that “there are even people in foreign companies who refuse their appointments to Korea. If Seoul wants to attract foreign investment as a true economic hub, they have to make the process of selecting an operator transparent.”

Chambers of Commerce and Industry from about 10 countries in Europe and Asia plan to send protesting letters to eight high government officials such as the deputy prime minister of economy, the minister of the commerce, industry and energy and the senior secretary to the president for social policy.

According to the letters’ draft Dong-A Ilbo obtained, the Chambers of Commerce and Industry stated, “In a reality where most international schools are providing American-style education based on a certain religion, it is very disappointing for an American-style Christian school to be chosen again, and it is an intrusion on our right to select a school. We urge you to find an alternative school we can accept.”

The U.S. embassy or American Chamber of Commerce in Korea (AMCHAM) hasn’t expressed its position, but an American said that this is an issue even among American parents because such a choice deprives non-Christians such as Muslims or Jews of their right to choose a school.

Regarding this, Kang Ho-min, secretary-general of the Korea Foreign Schools Foundation said, “The negotiation failed due to differences over the foundation’s policies about running the school. After a final contract is finished, we will invite parents and explain about why ICS was chosen and how to operate the school. Also, we will not enforce a certain religious education.”

Park Jin, a public relations director of ICS, said, “The selecting process was transparent and fair. We will make Asia’s best international school based on our know-how to run international schools in 43 countries.”

Min-Young Kwak Jae-Dong Yu havefun@donga.com jarrett@donga.com