Korean school goes ‘borderless’ By Kahori Sakane

OSAKA-Soon after English class began on a June afternoon at Osaka’s  new Korea International School, 15 high school freshmen were inundated with questions in English from Nadya Murray, their teacher.

“Who are the people in the movie? –“Jews.” “Who is the main man in the movie?” — “Tevye.” “He has a big family. How many children does he have?” — “Five daughters.” “Do they have a lot of money?” –“No, they don’t.”

The class was spending time reviewing Fiddler on the Roof, which they had watched in the previous class. It was as if Murray was switching on her students’ ability to think and speak in English, setting aside the Korean and Japanese they were speaking before class.

The six-year school, which opened in April and covers middle school through high school welcomed students of any nationality. But currently, the majority of the students are children of ethnic Koreans, or “Zainichi,” a term that refers to Koreans living in Japan who came or were brought to Japan during its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, and their descendants.

With the exception of Jpaanese and English language classes, all teaching at the school is conducted in Korean, though its curriculum emphasizes the acquisition of all three languages.

Especially, the school offers 12 English classes a week for both the middle and high school studnets, while Japanese public middle schools offer three hours of English classes a week. The school said it offers three times as many English classes than the total number offered at the average Japanese middle and high school.

Although there have been pro-Pyonyang and pro-Seoul ethnic schools in Japan, the school’s curriculum, it says, avoid bias toward any particular nation, including North or South Korea.

“The school was the fruit of a four year long discussion by ethnic Koreans,” said Chung Kap Su, spokeman of Korea International School.

Nearly 50 people, including such high-profile figures as Tokyo University Prof. Kang Sang Jung and poet Kim Si Jong, helped to form a support group and raise funds to set up the school.

As of December 2006, there were 598,219 people from the Korean Peninsula in Japan, including 438,974 Zainichi. Nienty percent of ethnic Korean children currently  go to public schools, according to Chung. Many of the remaining children attend international schools.

As an increasing number of Koreans are becoming naturalized citizens, many of them have fewere opportunities to expoe themselves to the language and culture of their origin.  Chung, however said learning the Korean language and culture is very important in maintaining their identities as ethnic Koreans in Japan.

“It’s for this reason that we hoped to set up a completely new institution that enables our chidlren to become ‘borderless,’ mixing the national differences of Japan and SOuth or North Kroea,” Chung said.

“To be ‘borderless’ is not merely to transcend nationalities. We also want to help them connect with people from other nationalities,” he said.

The path to opening the school was not easy, though. “The completion of the school in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, which has room for 210 students, has been delayed in part because of protests sparked by a dislike for the Korean residents. Construction was also slowed down due to delays in the plans’ inspection.

The school finally opened in April with 15 freshmen and 13 first-year middle school studnets, including one Jpaanese. More than half of the students have transferred from Japanese schools. A few of the students came from outside the Kansai region, and currently live in a temporary dormitory.

With the delay in construction, the students spent their first five weeks of school at a free school in South Korea, starting with their entrance ceremony in April.

Since returning in mid-May, they have been studying in an office building near Osaka’s Tsuruhashi area, which is known for its large ethnic Korean community. The school has not been accredited by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry and therefore does not receive public assistance. However, Chung argues that this benefits KIS and its studnets by “freeing it from the teaching guidelines designated by Japanese government, concerning curriculum and total class hours.

Two native English speakers teach the students, helping them to acquire English skills that would eventually enable them to attend institutions of higher education in English-speaking countries.

Based on the curriculum compiled by a professor at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, the high school students use two textbooks–Pro-Vision English Course I, published by Kirihara Shoten for Japanese schools, and Interchange published by Cambridge University Press, for learners of English as a second language.

On the day The Daily Yomiuri visited, the high school students were watching a two-minute excerpt from Fiddler on the Roof.

In the scene, protagonist Tevye, an Orthodox Jew, meets a university student from Kiev, who marries one of Tevye’s daughters.

Students were given a worksheet on which they had to complete18 lines of the scene. They then watched the scene three times–first in English, then with English subtitles. They then had to fill in the missing words from the dialogue.

One of the students was able to notice a word inadvertently missing from the worksheet; others found it difficult to pick up everything.

“I decided to use the film for my class after a talk with our history teacher, who is teaching the kids about the Diaspora,” said Murray.

“Because it may be difficult for first-year students to understand the Diaspora, we thought watching the film may help them understand it.”

Murray, who also is Jewish, also shared the Jewish custom of Sabbath–whcih is observed for about 24 hours, starting Friday at sundown–referring to the line from the movie “Good Sabbath.”

One of the more unusual approaches employed at KIS is the lack of textbooks for its history class. The students are instead provided with various documents concerning historical incidents to learn how the same incidents are seen by different countries.

Park Mi Jeong, the history teacher at KIS, said, “It is impossible to find a completely neutral position. In addition, students have different educational backgrounds until they come here. So their historical knowledge also varies.”

With this in mind, she started her class by discussing a historical incident and showing the students how different nations viewed the same incident. Through discussion not only among students but also possibly with their parents, the school hopes to compile its own history textbook after reviewing their ancestor’s history in the global context.

One of the high school students who had been studying since kindergarten at a pro-Pyonyang school in Hyogo Prefecture, said he chose the school because he wanted to focus onacquiring English skills.

“I orginally intended to go to a Japanese high school because I was dissatisfied with the way I was taught in my previous school, which taught things from the point of view of North Korea,” he said.

It was a cram school that he first realized the way he learned about things was different from his Japanese counterparts.

“If I keep living in Japan, I thought, I should learn about various ways of thinking and be able to see things in an unbiased manner,” he said. ” I don’t know whether this school suits me because everything has just started. So, I’m looking forward to moving  to the new school building where everythiing will start in full scale.”

The new school building under construction in Toyonaka is schedule d to be completed in early August. Classes are scheduled to start later in the month.

Thursday, July 10, 2008  The Daily Yomiuri

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