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Defectors, their children given shot at education

Dec 02,2017
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Students attend class at the Great Vision School. [GREAT VISION SCHOOL]
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Kim Doo-yeon
North Korean defectors and their children of all ages can now receive an education at the Great Vision School, an alternative school, through which some defectors have been admitted to prestigious universities, including Korea University, Sungkyunkwan University and Ewha Women’s University last year.

Seven graduates of the school were admitted to universities in the Seoul Metropolitan Area after taking the High School Graduation Equivalency Examination, including two admissions to Korea University, one to Sungkyunkwan University, one to Ewha Women’s University, two to Kookmin University, one to Hongik University and one to Seoul Women’s University.

The High School Graduation Equivalency Examination is similar to the U.S. GED, where students who did not complete high school can take the exam to qualify for university admittance.

“I think it’s necessary for us to provide young North Korean defectors a proper education in order to achieve the long-desired unification,” says Kim Doo-yeon, principal at the Great Vision School, “We are planting the seed for unification by giving defectors the opportunity for a proper education.”

Kim was a former Korean literature professor at Korea University for 24 years before becoming the principal for the alternative school in January 2015, located in Uijeongbu City, right outside of Seoul in Gyeonggi.

Unlike other existing schools for defectors, which have age limits that range from 12 to 24, the Great Vision School allows defectors of all ages to enroll, and at present has 36 students aged 13 to 32.

Because the school cannot offer any academic diplomas, “students are currently preparing to take the High School Graduation Equivalency Examination to submit their university applications while they dorm in Gangbuk, northern Seoul,” said the founder of the Great Vision School, Kim Woo-sik, a former Yonsei University president.

Kim Doo-yeon has recently been working with 14 children of North Korean defectors from China, who immigrated to the South.

“In many cases,” explains Kim, “if these children enter regular middle schools and high schools, they fall behind and get frustrated due to the language barrier.”

Students can complete the middle school and high school level curriculum, which is adjusted to their capabilities, in a year and a half to three years.

The former literature professor also founded the International Development Cooperation Institute in 2013, under the development and relief NGO Team and Team International, where he volunteered to teach civic education to middle and high school students under the group’s Korean branch.

While volunteering, the former literature professor noticed that there was a relatively large number of adolescent North Korean defectors who were unable to receive proper education and decided to actively support education designed specifically for these students.

Students can attend the alternative school without paying any tuition fees or living expenses, and can also receive all three meals at the school.

Though students are able to receive an education from the school, the facility where they learn is not particularly favorable. Classes are run in an underground shopping complex owned by the Korea Land and Housing Corporation.

“It pains me to see the students studying at such a small and confined space in the basement,” says the principal. “I think the learning environment and the school will improve if we moved to a larger public space supported by the government, which would probably increase our chance to give out academic diplomas.” He adds, “If other corporations and government-run institutions gave us even just a speck of their interest, I think that would provide great support to our students.”

The school is currently funded by the neighborhood and city’s local government, along with donations by local Christian organizations and residents.

BY JEON ICK-JIN [song.hankyul@joongang.co.kr]