Messages of Changing the Korean Education System Delivered by Odyssey School

An Education Innovation Model by the Collaboration of official public education and Alternative Education

In Korea, the alternative education movement started in the early 1990s by realizing that official public education had been deviated from the pedagogical ideal due to the excessive competition to enter top-ranked universities. Without being subordinate to the university entrance examination, it instead focused on the pedagogical ideal, such as voluntary learning, knowledge bound to life, and learning interacted with others, delivering new impressions on public education.

As a legal basis was prepared for alternative education, some alternative schools defined as “specialized schools providing alternative education” entered into the framework of official public education and received financial assistance from the governments. Also, some other alternative schools collaborate with the official public education sector as “Entrusted alternative schools.” In another way, there are other public schools operated as “Hyukshin schools”” that incorporate part of pedagogical philosophy developed from the alternative education movement.

While alternative education and official public education have collaborated to a certain extent, the collaboration has not reached to an in-depth level. Amidst the circumstances, Odyssey School created synergy in education by integrating an alternative education curriculum into the framework of public education and could achieve harmony and balance between the stability of public education and the pedagogical ideal promoted by alternative education. Especially for the Korean official education system, it is more meaningful to develop a new model in which teachers from official public education worked together with teachers from alternative education for plans, executions, and evaluations of the education programs, and could learn from each other and grow together.

Operating Flexible Education Programs in Consideration of Differences in Individual Development 

From the beginning, Odyssey School advocated the “freedom to look sideways” and that “it’s okay to take a break.” In the 12 years of schooling for the university entrance exam, the first year in high school can be viewed as the tenth step, and hence, it is a widespread belief that breaking the preparation to the exam for one year is a foolish choice because it could result in substantial damage for the admission. However, Odyssey School believed that one-year off from the 12-year curriculum for having the time to contemplate questions such as “Who am I?” and “How should I live?” would not be a waste of time when considering the entire, long life. Indeed, the Odyssey program verifies that the one-year break away from the conventional 12-year curriculum centered on the university admission allows students to engage in more proactive and self-directed learnings.

The one-year off program at Odyssey has been accredited and recognized as general school, so students can participate with an ease of mind. However, irrelevant to the accreditation in the future, it will need to offer students diverse paths to better suit their circumstances by judging if students feel difficulty in completing the curriculum at their grade level or if they do better to spend time learning something different from the standard curriculum. By settling down a “gap year” program, it needs to provide more students with an opportunity to think about their life and future at the turning point in their lives, and via the program of “leave of absence for career exploration,” it needs to consider a device that allows students to take a break to engage in a different type of learning and introspection outside the general school setting and return to school when better ready to pursue the regular studies. 

Implications to innovate general school 

Among the educational achievements by Odyssey, what is essential to innovate general school is to reinforce “education relevant to life.” The public school curriculum in Korea was mostly focused on “school subjects” and very weak in teaching the “education relevant to life.” Teachers were required to have expertise in the subjects they teach, not expertise in the “education relevant to life.” This is because the main aim of public education in Korea is to effectively convey a wide scope of subject-based information and knowledge and achieve high entrance admission rates. At Odyssey, the time and energy spent on “education relevant to life.” The “education relevant to life” means education that helps establish the context where learning occurs in the individual lives of students during their classes and activities at the school via feedback and profound interactions between teachers and students and among students themselves. As a result of these activities, students can grow by internalizing what they have learned in classes and through various activities at school, improving their shortcomings, and thinking about how they can practice what they have learned in their daily lives. 

Based on the Odyssey experience, general school needs to reduce the amount of time spent on “school subjects” and allocate the time for “education relevant to life,” so students can discuss learning and receive feedback from each other. Moreover, teachers should be given opportunities to spend more time and energy in providing “education relevant to life” and engage in more meaningful interactions with their students, in addition to the “school subjects,” which helps students experience more profound learning and practice the knowledge they have obtained in classes and through educational activities in real life.

The Direction of Future Korean Education Experienced from Odyssey School

Predicting future education and future schools of Korea is premised on social changes related to the revolutionary advance in science and technologies (S&T) and the consequent development in Education technology. However, from our experience, it is also known that advancement in S&T including information and communication technologies (ICT) will not always lead to positive changes. The rapid development in S&T in the late 20th and early 21st centuries could increase productivity and provide convenience to our life, but at the same time, we experienced job declines, intense income polarization associated with multinational capitalism, and deprivation of the hope for the young generation. Therefore, we have to keep in mind that while advancement in S&T can contribute to the development of Education technology to a certain extent, there are still concerns that social instability and insecurity may increase, and hence, shrink educational activities.

Another fact to be considered is that no one can predict when the excessive competition in Korea will disappear. Without resolving all kinds of contradictions and inconsistencies in the education system, incorporating the advanced S&T into the education system may intensify such contradictions and inconsistencies. To properly address the current issues along with the pedagogical ideal, we must contemplate the ways to incorporate future S&T into education and meet our ultimate objectives. Because it is apparent to have various changes in our future society stemming from the advanced S&T, we need to think of how to utilize the future S&T and make active efforts to fix and overcome our educational issues in alliance with the pedagogical ideal. 

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