It is already time to say goodbye to 2019, the “gihae” year (Year of the Golden Pig). A wise man once said, “What has been done makes known what will be done.” The past is not something insignificant, rather it is the key to the future. Before the start of 2020, the “gyeongja” year (Year of the Metal Rat), superintendent Cho Heeyeon reflects on the achievements of the Seoul’s Education System during his time in office and shares the path going forward.
Achievements and Remaining Projects of Seoul’s Innovative Future-Oriented Education
I can still feel the thrill that comes with the dawn of the new millennium. However, the 2010s are about to give way to the 2020s. Generally, people are used to living on a year to year basis. At the end of the year, we tend to look back at the past year with a regretful heart. We start off a new year with a new plan that includes dieting, exercising, quitting smoking, and so on. This type of year to year basis is particularly familiar to us, the members of the Seoul’s Education Community, as we plan and execute projects with a focus on the annual budget and settling accounts. In addition, given many pending issues and great reforms ahead of us, we know that it is not even easy to think on a year to year basis unless we are at the end or the beginning of a year.
We very often face situations that require us to take actions on a monthly, weekly, or even a daily basis to promote projects or manage conflicts. Sometimes, we are required to take actions within hours, minutes, or even seconds. Still, it is absolutely necessary for us to wrap up the year and prepare for a new one in the most competent manner.
With the beginning of a new decade on the horizon, let me share briefly with you what has happened for the past five and a half years while I have been in office. We have all been working extremely hard, and we have come so far. Let us take a step back to see if we need to change the direction in which we are headed, what achievements we have made and what limitations are ahead, and where we stand at the moment. Most of all, I hope that by sharing what we have achieved together, we can have a chance to feel proud of ourselves.
The first thing that comes to mind is the opening of the Narae School, a public school for children with learning disabilities. This was the first opening of such a school in 17 years after Gyeongun School opened its doors in 2002. In 2020, another such school called Seojin School will be launched in Gangseo-gu. In addition, Ingang School, a private school that was involved in an unfortunate incident, has transformed into a public school called Dosol School that officially opened recently. In order to realize “education that does not leave anyone behind,” all of us at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education have joined hands to solve many problems. Still, we are not able to say that we have done enough. We must continue doing our very best to ensure that that our students will not be inhibited from learning because of disability.
Second, we have worked hard to popularize innovative education. The number of Innovative Schools has jumped from 97 in 2015 to 221 in 2019. The current figure accounts for 16.8% of all schools, with innovative elementary schools standing at 27%, or 164 schools. The number of Innovative Education Districts has expanded from two–Guro and Geumcheon–in 2014 to all 25 districts in Seoul in 2019. Innovative education has now become the mainstream. As you know, this process has not been easy. In fact, the difficult process of explaining and convincing citizens that the values of innovative education, including creativity, autonomy, and democracy, are essential to students living in a rapidly evolving era is still ongoing. 2020 will mark the 10th anniversary of the introduction of innovative schools in Seoul. With the 10th anniversary of innovative schools on the horizon, we are tasked with achieving a qualitative leap on top of the quantitative expansion of innovative education.
Third, we have laid the foundation for the future of education. For “Seoul-type Maker Education,” we have developed and disseminated various curriculum-linked programs while building infrastructure through selected hub centers and model schools. Nevertheless, the rapid pace of the technological advance is a huge challenge for us. We are in a position to secure bolder investments and support as we are faced with the requirement of acquiring a large amount of new software and hardware. Additionally, we must increase the number of innovative future-oriented schools, as there are currently only four. We have to transform special purpose high schools from mere vocational schools into cradles that produce future professional talent. We must offer education that can foster human resources who can take the lead in globalization and technological development, the major trends that are shaping our world. Future-oriented education should not be thought of as providing an assortment or something that is “helpful but not required.” We must keep in mind that that is one of the most pressing topics facing Seoul’s Education System.
Our Past, Present, and Future Tasks
We have made great achievements in Out-of-School Youth Education Participation Allowance. Many expressed concern, including members of the National Assembly. To exaggerate a bit, no one seemed fully confident about the success of the project. However, we have pushed through based on our trust in and affection for the out-of-school youth, which makes the project’s success all the more significant. In fact, there was concern even amongst us. Yet the results are extremely encouraging. The number of students registered at “Chingurang,” an out-of-school youth help center, has increased 3.9 times over the past year. Also, compared to 2018, 2.5 times as many dropout students have participated in the learning support pilot program. The amount of students who have taken and passed the qualification examination has also increased by approximately 1.6 times. 19 students have returned to school. They have proven us wrong by demonstrating that even a little care and support can make a big difference. While maintaining our interest in out-of-school youth, we must pay attention to more students who are sitting on the fence.
Our schools have become safer. School accidents that continued to increase up until 2014 have been steadily decreasing from 13,458 in 2015 to 11,864 in 2018. This is the result of hands-on learning instead of learning through lectures or books. In 2019, we have allocated over KRW 1.8 billion to 2,154 schools for hands-on safety experience education. As a countermeasure against particulate matter, we have installed air purifiers in all of our 42,348 classrooms. Safety always comes first. If there remain any safety concerns in our schools, we must deal with them immediately, no matter the cost. Only when students and faculty feel completely safe can we achieve our vision, “Schools at which every morning is full of excitement.”
Seoul’s Education System has accomplished, is still accomplishing, and will accomplish countless achievements, including class innovation and classroom revolution; “citizens in school uniforms” policies; expansion of the Odyssey School; normalization of school administration through administrative innovation; reduction of policy projects and expansion of school autonomy; transfer of school violence incidents; internationalization of specialized high schools; expansion of free meals and free education; dissolution of the Korea Kindergarten Association; and reforms to the high school education system. I think we deserve be proud of what we have accomplished. For some issues, progress was painfully slow. But we never gave up. We persevered and here we are. We can recognize it only when we look at the bigger picture. Thus, in the new year, I will try to maintain my composure at all times, expecting you to do the same by my side, by always keeping with the flow and direction of Seoul’s Education System no matter what tasks we are given at any given time.
I wish you many blessings in the new year, including “composure.”
Written by Cho Heeyeon(Superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) Photo supplied by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education