Kim Jung-hyang, a 20-year-old North Korean defector, had never attended school in the North. So she had to work extra hours to catch up with her South Korean high school classmates..
Her relentless efforts, coupled with benefits from special admission programs available for North Korean defectors, have paid off and now she is preparing to study at a prestigious college next year.
All of this, however, might not have been possible if she had not made a decision to move to an alternative school dedicated to educating students like her. Nestled on a hillside of Mount Nam in central Seoul, Yeomyung is an alternative school launched in 2004 to help young North Korean defectors find hope and dreams in the South through education. Around 30 students, including Kim, will graduate from the school early next year.
Yeomyung is one of nine such major alternative schools whose main objective is to provide “tailored” education for those with “unique” experience and needs. They do provide Korean, English, math, science, history and other major subjects needed for the college entrance exam, but it is done not in a “one-size-fits-all” manner as seen in many other ordinary Korean schools but in a way that fits the level of each group by capitalizing on a relatively small number of students.
Demand is now growing for alternative school programs as the number of North Korean defectors and their kids is on the steady rise. Though exact figures are not available, some estimates put the school-aged North Korean defectors at around 3,500.