Aims and Preparations

The idea for Odyssey School was initially presented in one of the campaign promises made by Cho Hee-Yeon in July 2014 when he ran for superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education(SMOE). He suggested a year-long program that would provide students with an opportunity to think freely, engage in introspection, take on new challenges, and go on adventures after they graduated from middle school, which was a time when many students look for meaning in life. Through this, he wished to implement a creative and autonomous curriculum befitting the essence of education, rather than those centering on college admission, and present a model for curriculum diversification and innovation of public education.

Accordingly, a task force (TF) was launched in September 2014 to prepare for the founding of Odyssey School. The TF was comprised of officials from the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education SMOE as well as teachers from public schools who contemplated the changes necessary in the official public education system and those who headed the alternative education movement who contemplated the future of the Korean education system. With these members, the TF began preparing for a futuristic school that had never existed before in the Korean education sector, and that best embodied the essence of education.

The school was named Odyssey School, based on a public idea contest by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education SMOE. It is heroic of the Greek mythology Odysseus, whose educational philosophy aims to help students break away from the general school curriculum and stand right as the subject of their lives through a year of rest, reflection, and adventure. Superintendent Cho Hee-Yeon announced the promotion plan that attempts the Free Semester System in high school level at Odyssey School under the school alias, as "Educational Expedition to Find the Meaning and Direction of Life" on March 2015. Finally, the school started its first departure with 40 new students on May 26.

Creation of Educational Synergy Through Public-Private Partnership 

While Odyssey School began with the strong intension and support from SMOE, tight collaboration with private institutes that have tried to provide alternative education for 20 years could make Odyssey School settled down. Among public education teachers, there were teachers with interest and willingness for a new trial. Still, they were accustomed to the separated education centered on individual subjects and had little experience in the integrated education to consider the growth of a student.

Therefore, the Odyssey School project proceeded in close cooperation with private, alternative educational institutes in the beginning. The Office of Education concentrated on administrative support to ensure that Odyssey School should be established as a type of public education with a certified course, and hence, it supported finance and other educational supplement needed to operate the school and handled the process of returning to the original schools of the selected students after completing the one-year education course. In addition, the alternative educational institutes that participated in the operation of the program contracted a business agreement with the Office of Education and provided education programs oriented toward the philosophy of Odyssey School for a year.

When Odyssey School was launched in 2015, the public-private partnership was simply meant that the Office of Education was responsible for administrative and financial support while alternative educational institutes were in charge of providing education. At the time, two public school teachers participated, but they were only responsible for administrative support and the operation of the general common curriculum. Starting from 2016, however, more public school teachers were recruited, and one teacher was dispatched to each alternative educational institute and worked as a team with teachers in the institute to plan, operate, and evaluate the program.

In this process, the public-private partnership operate, and evaluate the program. In this process, the public-private partnership system of Odyssey School experienced the chemical change in nature. The most significant change was that the participating teachers in public schools gained broader perspectives of education and developed their competencies. Public school teachers who were competent and devoted to education felt frustrated with the realities of the public education system that failed to induce any significant growth and changes of students, and hence, they began to internalize the educational discernment based on the pedagogical ideal in the field of alternative education where the growth of students was the primary focus. Teachers in the alternative educational institutes also observed the possibility of cooperation with those in official public education, instead of just criticizing official public education.

The advancement of public school teachers achieved by the public-private partnership led to the creation of a new program offered by an independent group composed of public school teachers. The public school teachers who had participated in the alternative educational institutes founded an operating group called Odyssey Hyukshin Park in 2017 and Odyssey Irum in 2020, which helped further diversify the elective courses offered by Odyssey School. The collaboration between the public and private sectors made this possible: public school teachers could develop the ability to plan and operate a curriculum tailored to the pedagogical ideal and student growth working at alternative educational institutes and alternative educational institutes could provide their full cooperation for this process. By developing a new team composed of public school teachers and operating a separate curriculum, Odyssey School could gain a stronger foothold in the public education sector and even increase the possibility of contributing to changes in public education.

Figure 1. Operators of Odyssey School Programs Based on public-private partnership
Figure 1. Operators of Odyssey School Programs Based on public-private partnership
Maintaining Unity in Diversity and Controlling the Quality of Education 

The five programs operated under Odyssey School share a common goal of running one year program to help students discover the meaning and direction in life, but they operate separate programs tailored to individual student characteristics. While this presented an advantage to provide a more suitable curriculum for each and every student, a negative side is to experience difficulty in maintaining unity as a single school. So the main question from the beginning is to address how the diverse programs could pursue a common educational goal and how the quality of education could be steadily improved through the ongoing change.

Odyssey School has been tackling these issues based on openness and sharing, instead of supervising and evaluating students. All classes and activities at Odyssey School are open to external parties. Students and teachers also interact through multiple channels, indicating all educational activities are open to each other. Also, before the start of each year, teachers share the curriculum with their respective institutes and exchange feedback to each other, sharing their opinions and assisting one another when facing difficulties every semester. As this process continues over the years, each program could supplement their shortcomings with the support of each operator’s strengths and improve the quality of the educational programs, while maintaining their own uniqueness and strengths. The process of cooperation and mutual assistance among the program operators in the Odyssey School programs has contributed significantly to advancing Odyssey with a sense of unity in diversity. 

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