“We need to realize a multicultural society.”
Prof. Choi Byeong-gyu, Head of Hanmaum Educational Volunteer Team
"We will create a national franchise with multicultural mother-child educational programs"
"Problems in the social ecosystem cannot be fundamentally solved by money from the government and companies. It is necessary to identify the reasons and solutions instead of pointing a finger at those responsible. Once solutions are found, we should not wait for the government to lead; we should take the initiative."
Professor Emeritus and the head of the Hanmaum Educational Volunteer Team, Prof. Choi Byeong-gyu retired two years ago and began to have increasing interest in educating mothers and children in multicultural families.
After recognizing the social problems related to multicultural families, Prof. Choi actively engaged in volunteering activities targeted at multicultural families and founded the volunteer team in 2014.
Prof. Choi recounts that his perspective toward social problems was transformed after reading a book written by Peter Drucker, an American management consultant and educator. "I used to think that governmental support was an essential part in addressing social problems, but now I believe we need the social sector as an alternative to the state and private businesses and organizations."
The solution Prof. Choi found as a means to address educational challenges faced by multicultural families is simple: working in the field as a member of our society. Heading the Hanmaum Educational Volunteer Team, he initiated voluntary educational activities, working as a tutor to children and the principal of the School for Multicultural Mothers.
In the process, Prof. Choi focused on education and future for the children raised in multicultural families. He says that those children tend to lead themselves astray when they enter elementary or middle school. Since their mothers are not fluent in Korean language and not familiar with the elementary education in Korea, they are less able to help their children’s studies at home and smoothly communicate with schoolteachers. Against this backdrop, children often ignore their mothers and have difficulty leading both their school life and private life.
"Regardless of their abilities, children find it difficult to find a solution once they lag behind," explains Prof. Choi. "In the end, they are left neglected by everyone around them."
South Korea currently has about 200,000 children from multicultural families. Even excluding children from immigrant workers from the statistics, children from multicultural families account for approximately five percent of all newborn babies in Korea each year. Immigrant workers are now supporting our society by working mostly in manual labor Koreans tend to avoid, and the young generation raised by multicultural or immigrant families will certainly be a significant share in Korea's future human assets in the era of extremely low birthrates.
Although the government, businesses, and various organizations have introduced a range of programs to help multicultural families, the programs are often geared towards window dressing. "Sometimes, children from multicultural families are used for the success of those programs," points out Prof. Choi.
"Many skeptically ask whom those programs were made for, and whether they are actually benefitting multicultural families," continues Prof. Choi. This is clearly a challenge faced by Korean society in addressing multicultural issues. "I met several lawmakers to find solutions to multicultural family issues, but I could not make meaningful achievement," says Prof. Choi.
"People tend to regard social problems lightly," notes Prof. Choi. "It is difficult to solve social problems such as education for children in multicultural families, however, only through the welfare policy expanded by the government, welfare foundations established by private businesses, or volunteering and donation activities participated in by the general public."
Prof. Choi also emphasized that "the education program we provide is different from a one-time volunteering activity you would do in spare time." He strongly believes that educational volunteering is not something people can do only when they are pleased and that participants need to regard their activities at NGOs as seriously as an ordinary social career if they really want to benefit our society.
The Hanmaum Educational Volunteer Team provides education services to both children and mothers in multicultural families. "Multicultural mothers need to learn because they have to make themselves familiar with the elementary school curricula in order to communicate with their children confidently," explains Prof. Choi. "Participating in education, the mothers will be able to show their kids that they also study at home and to communicate with teachers at school."
Under the "flipped teaching" system, multicultural mothers and children attend online lectures for two weeks before participating in field classes. Prof. Choi has met with experts from various fields to seek advice and discuss how to develop educational programs and materials.
"I realized that education-related issues cannot be solved simply, and it is essential to employ scientific and efficient methods to develop adequate programs," says Prof. Choi with a smile. "As an engineering professor, I thought I needed to make a scientific program."
Together with KAIST students and schoolteachers, Prof. Choi participates in educational programs, alternately on Fridays or Saturdays. About ten KAIST student volunteers participate in field classes, give online lectures, or manage exams.
The ultimate goal of the Hanmaum Educational Volunteer Team is to open educational volunteer franchisees under all local governments encompassing over 200 administrative districts across the nation. As a company would establish its own affiliated research institute, the team can conduct research and development of multicultural educational programs in Daejeon and enable each local government to practice educational activities nationwide. "It is my hope to spread multicultural family school franchisees throughout the nation," says Prof. Choi. "The volunteer team will have to reach out into rural areas that tend to have more multicultural families."
Nowadays, Prof. Choi frequently spends time with Min-su (assumed name), a high school student from a multicultural family, running along the riverside in Daejeon. They met a few years ago when Min-su, then in second grade in middle school, was deeply addicted to online games and about to fall into despair. After Prof. Choi taught Min-su, the teenager gradually changed and entered a high school. Min-su faced another stage of frustration at high school, but Prof. Choi is teaching and working out with him again to keep him focused on school life.
Prof. Choi recently appeared on "Little Big Hero," a cable TV program, to publicize the activities engaged by the Hanmaum Educational Volunteer Team and multicultural family issues in Korea. "The video clip was uploaded on the show’s Facebook page and invited enthusiastic responses with over 20,000 likes," says Prof. Choi. The post now has a number of supportive comments praising Prof. Choi as a model educator and intellectual and his life as a desirable life after retirement.
"I became busier after retirement," laughs Prof. Choi. "I will continue with pleasure to work for multicultural families."
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