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World Reporters' Visit to Gyeyang High School

Updated: Jan 3, 2020

Last Friday, November 29, our World Reporters team had an interesting trip to Gyeyang High School in Incheon city. This was everyone's first time to visit a Korean high school, so it was a precious chance for us to get to know more about real school life in the country. Moreover, through a short interview with Mr Ohyoung Yoo, the school’s principal, we found out more about Korea's education system as well as the values it teaches to the students.

To help us have a proper understanding of the matter, Principal Yoo gave us a short explanation about the school system of Korea before introducing Gyeyang High School. There are three kinds of high schools in the country with the first one being general schools where students follow a standardized study process, at the end of which they are supposed to take a university entrance exam. The second kind is vocational high schools for students who aim to find a job right after graduation, that specialize in various fields such as agriculture, industry or business. The last type is special high schools for gifted students. Gyeyang High School belongs to the first kind with more than 20 years of history and a number of alumni exceeding 10,000. Now it has 620 students enrolled, divided into 26 classes, along with 51 teachers and 72 staff members. Let’s take a look at the interview we conducted with Principal Yoo and see how Korean high schools are different than those around the world.

What is the main goal of the school and how are you trying to achieve it?

Our goal can be found in the Korean expression “명예로운 사람”, which translates as "honorable person". Indeed, there is a number of qualities a person needs to be considered honorable, but in my opinion, two of them stand out as most important. The first characteristic is virtuous humanity – one should be tolerant and understanding of others, which means being willing to help anyone to create a better life together. Especially, in the current capitalist environment with an increasing gap between the rich and the poor, people have become so selfish and competition-focused. I don’t think this is education’s primary goal, and that’s why we always encourage our students to be good people in the first place. Regarding our second goal, we understand that no matter how good their personality is, a person cannot live well without a talent, so we aim to help our students improve their abilities not only through studying but also by collaborating with each other and finding their own way.

Skills valued by Gyeyang High School are summarized in the C3 concept (Creativity, Communication, Collaboration). How do you cultivate these talents in your students?

We are trying our best to change the way of teaching in Korea. Normally, it’s just about learning everything written in the textbook or bluntly transmitting knowledge from teachers to students. The way this process is developing currently is not really beneficial for the creativity of the students. Therefore, the school holds classes where they can freely express their ideas. Once a month, students take part in a “specialized learning program” where they share opinions about the way they want classes to be conducted, sometimes giving those proposals a trial run. We give our students chances to share their opinions about problems of the class management system as well. Besides, we encourage students to participate in various events and programs parallel with studying. For example, after school hours, we invite experts to teach them how to discuss and debate effectively. Recently, there was a topic about nuclear energy development since our students show a keen interest in science. We spend almost 20% of our budget for investments in the field of science such as tools and programs that allow students to successfully conduct experiments together. Moreover, we create a dynamic atmosphere with activity clubs and events, so that they can learn to work in a group which also stimulates creativity.

High school students are often put under a lot of stress because of the graduation exam. How does the school support them during that period?

Stress is a side effect of Korea's rapid economic development which was made possible in such a short time only by focusing on education. But in this school, we try not to force studying too hard on them. Instead of paying attention only to those who have already showed remarkable results, we want to grow confidence in all our students, so that they can cheer up and keep a positive mind in a difficult situation. Besides science classes, as I have already mentioned, we also take into account other subjects such as Music, Arts and Physical Education. We are trying our best to include more time for those disciplines in the curriculum of the students in order to relieve their stress caused by the graduation exam.

How do parents participate in school life?

The three main components of Gyeyang High School are teachers, students and parents. Recently, parents' participation has been considerable. We provide space and time for them to have a discussion with the staff and express their opinions. Overall, communication between the school, students and parents is going well. More than that, according to Korean law, parents have positions in the school board, too. Besides that, there is a parent's association where they can exchange information or review the performance of the school system. Sometimes, parents also engage in volunteer activities like helping to arrange books at the school library, supervising during exams or cleaning the school grounds. Monitoring examination questions is an example of how they are becoming more involved in our school's work.

In such a competitive situation, how do you prepare your students for future employment and what kind of advice do you give them?

We have a teacher in charge of employment consulting whose main job is to let students know that a job is something you need not only for generating an income but also for self-development. Therefore, part of the consulting is based on giving them affirmative feedback. Furthermore, in order to have a strong dedication to a job, students have to choose between a field they like or a field they're really good at. That’s why we have added the “Employment Consulting” subject to the students’ timetables, so they can take a standard future career test to find what their best options are with consideration of each student's individual situation. Occasionally, we organize outside-of-school activities such as field trips, that provide real job-related experience.

Korean students usually are afraid of speaking in English. How do you think that problem could be solved?

The reason why Korean students usually are afraid of speaking in particular, is that they usually don’t have a chance to practice. And why is that? Because of the exams. For the test they have to prepare only reading and writing, so their speaking is quite weak. Nowadays, a listening part has been included in some exams, so maybe the situation is improving. I think that if the education system and the exam criteria were to change, this problem could be solved. There is also a historic side to that issue. As you may know, 70% of the Korean vocabulary is still impacted by Chinese characters. After our independence and due to Korean nationalism, we tried so hard to break away from that influence. If English becomes too popular, the same problem can occur. I think maybe that’s one of the reasons why we don’t want to use English in our daily lives – to protect our own language.

What advice would you give to those students of Gyeyang High School who decide to study abroad? Also, what words of support would you share with those foreign students who choose to come to Korea?

Realistically speaking, with the development of high technology, Korea's job market has been negatively impacted and there seems to be no effective solution to that problem. So, if there is anyone who plans to study abroad and follow their dreams, I will surely encourage and support them. Also, to all foreign students in Korea, I’m so glad that you have come here. I want to help all of you as much as I can. Whenever you need to visit our school or conduct surveys for research purposes, you are always welcomed. And lastly, I want to say thank you for loving Korea and coming all the way here to study.

After the interview, we spent time with selected students for a short talking session. Each of our team members made a presentation about their home country and, in return, the students shared with us the reality of their school life. It was a truly meaningful time for all of us. We hope that the students of Gyeyang High School will score high on their graduation exams!

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