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A small school with a big heartStudents learn environmental principles at Gotjawal Little School
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승인 2011.03.11  19:02:01
트위터 페이스북 미투데이 요즘 네이버 구글 msn
▲ Gotjawal Little School Director Moon Young Po. Photo by Darryl Coote

In the small village of Seonheul, where the elementary school caters to only 20 students with no hagwon in sight, the Gotjawal Little School not only fosters the education of environmental preservation and peace, but also endeavors to show the members of this isolated community that they are truly citizens of the world.

The Gotjawal Little School, opened in July, 2006, was the brainchild of Founder and Director Moon Young Po. “My dream since I was young was to become a teacher. Unfortunately, I could not since I was unable to enter the College of Education,” said Moon.

Instead, he worked for NGOs to improve the working conditions of underprivileged laborers and was a part of political movements to conserve nature. “By participating in those movements, I became greatly interested in nature,” he said. “I finally decided to actualize my old dream, being a teacher, by establishing this school. I wanted children from rural areas to have a place to enjoy the cultural life and learn more about nature.”

Moon said the reason he chose Seonheul was because the village is so small and disconnected from the rest of the island that there is nothing for the children to do after school. Also, the area is surrounded by oreum (parallel volcanic cones) and Gotjawal forests and is within a 10 minute drive to the beach. “I thought this place was perfect for children to learn about nature,” said Moon, who came to know of the town several years ago.

While climbing the nearby Geomun-oreum he heard the sound of Samulnori (traditional Korean music). He followed the music to the elementary school and when he saw the children performing, he instantly felt a connection with the place. “I came to have a great affection for this school, so even before opening the Gotjawal Little School, I visited often,” Moon said.

Like the village it resides in, his school is small, but this does not concern him. The real learning occurs outside of the building’s walls. Currently the Gotjawal Little School offers six programs plus after school activities that consist of field trips and community projects. Moon does not consider himself a teacher but a “mutual guru” who stresses that curiosity and eagerness to ask questions far outweigh the value of the retention and regurgitation of facts. He explained that on field trips he would rather students contemplate why certain plants develop three leaves while others four than to know the names of the vegetation.

To broaden his students’ horizons and to teach them that they are citizens of the world the school offers programs that allow them to have a direct effect upon society. During the Peace School program the students hold the “Peace Market for Conflict Area” where they sell their used goods to help build libraries in places of conflict.

They have already donated money to Mindanao, East Timor; Aceh, Tibet; and Dharamsala, India. Moon thought that this was a good idea not only for the students to do something valuable for impoverished communities but also to educate them about areas of which they had little previous knowledge. Moon hopes that in the future the school will visit these areas to physically take part in the creation of the libraries.

In 2007 Moon, in conjunction with the International Workcamp Organization, integrated an annual International Camp, which sees students from all over the world visiting Seonheul “to share the values about peace and nature,” reads the Gotjawal Little School’s Web site ( For several weeks during the summer, students from Canada, the U.S., U.K., Poland, Vietnam, and Japan to name a few, visit Seonheul to learn about nature and to cultivate peace and friendship. “[The international students] have a meaningful and great time here,” said Moon.

The school is nonprofit and only charges a minimal fee for weekend programs while after school activities are free to all students. As of the time this piece was written almost all of the 20 students of the nearby Sunin elementary school participated in the after school program.

Moon said “I feel most proud at the fact that the kids coming here sincerely love this school and are willing to come here. These days, many kids go somewhere only because their parents want them to. However, kids in Gotjawal school really want to come here themselves.“

▲ Gotjawal Little School, as seen from the street. Photo by Darryl Coote

(Interpretation by Koh Yu Kyung)


ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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