Korea: ‘Teachers need multicultural education’

Numbers still small: 100,000 compared to over 9 million but likely concentrated in cities:

Korea’s multicultural population continues to grow, but the government has yet to establish a law that requires teachers to receive training to better address a racially diverse classroom.

In 2010, a multicultural education class was introduced in the university curriculum for students aspiring to become teachers, but under the current system it is not compulsory.

Mo Kyung-hwan, president of the Korean Association for Multicultural Education (KAME) and professor at Seoul National University (SNU)’s Department of Social Studies Education, teaches this class, but only seven students are taking it this semester.

“If only seven students signed up for a class taught by a part-time instructor, it would be canceled. As dean of the department of social studies education, I was not required to teach the class, but decided to as students need to learn about multiculturalism,” Mo told The Korea Times in an interview at SNU, Tuesday.

Classes on school violence and special education are mandatory, but those on multiculturalism are not.

Classes teaching multicultural education were initiated at universities and departments of education with government funding, but the education ministry has cut subsidies and many schools no longer offer the classes.

Teachers who attended university before the classes were introduced in the curriculum have even less opportunities.

Since 2008, the Seoul and Gyeonggi offices of education started offering classes on multiculturalism for teachers. However, they are limited to 15 hours a year, which is far from enough, Mo said.

“The number of Korean students is shrinking, but that of multicultural students is growing. Students’ receptivity of multiculturalism has improved, but multicultural students still face prejudice and bullying at school,” he said, pointing to the need for teacher training to be made mandatory under the new Moon Jae-in administration.

Data from Statistics Korea shows the number of school aged children stood at 9.38 million in 2016, a 10.4 percent decrease from 10.5 million in 2010.

In contrast, the number of school-aged multicultural children stood at 99,186 in 2016, more than a 200 percent increase from 31,788 in 2010.

Multicultural children, who accounted for 0.44 percent of the student population in 2010, now accounted for 1.68 percent in 2016.

Korea’s efforts to embrace multiculturalism

Korea was mostly homogeneous up until the 1980s, but it saw an influx of immigrant workers in the 1990s and immigrant brides in the 2000s. Due to the growing population of immigrants and their children, the government drew up its first policy to support them in 2006.

In line with the policy, the education ministry revised the school curriculum so that textbooks would help students enhance their receptivity of multiculturalism.

In the meantime, schools aid multicultural children in learning Korean and building their academic skills, and assist them in planning their careers.

“Multicultural education has grown tremendously both in quantity and quality in the past decade,” Mo said.

“In the next decade, as the multicultural population grows further, their countries of origin, reasons for immigration, socio-economic status and Korean language abilities will be diversified _ and education for these students will be specialized to accommodate their needs.”

Learning from immigrant nations

Countries such as the U.S. or Canada, which began as immigrant nations, have far more advanced policies for immigrants.

“What we can learn from these countries is the premise they had of immigrant policies _ that they were not merely welfare for minorities but for the nation as a whole,” Mo said.

This is because immigrants contribute to the economy with the labor they provide, and with the taxes they pay. Young immigrants and their children can also provide a solution to countries with low birth rates, he said.

“When neglecting them, they could pose instability to the nation, but providing them support will lead to social integration,” Mo said.

He added these countries regarded policies for immigrants as important as defense, economic or labor policies.

“In the long-term, Korea will need a government body solely dedicated to immigrant affairs,” he said.

Source: ‘Teachers need multicultural education’

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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