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Alternative primary school focuses on individual strengthsNewly-opened Bomulseom School provides a rare cooperative schooling option for parents
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승인 2011.11.26  07:42:56
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▲ In traditional Korean society, the community helped raise the children, and parents were not alone, says Bomulseom School Principal Jung Yeon Il. Photo by Angela Kim

If you bring together a group of kids but omit most rules and have lenient teacher supervision, the best-case scenario might be chaos. However, students at Bomulseom School learn that freedom only comes with responsibility. At this non-traditional school, students learn to make choices for themselves and how to enjoy life.

Jeju’s newly-opened Bomulseom School is an alternative education community designed to provide a space for cooperative education with parents and a place for children to play and learn freely. Unlike traditional schools it does not put emphasis on academic success, rather it focuses on each child as a unique and valuable individual.

Located in Odeungdong, Jeju City, the school was officially established on Sept. 25, 2011. In 2002, a group of parents worked together to form Bomulseom Co-op Daycare. After a few years, the children who had attended this daycare became elementary school students. Parents felt the need to keep providing their children with a safe place where they can grow as people and students.

The school has three main themes: love, sharing, and community. “In traditional Korean society, the community was in charge of raising children,” said Jung Yeon Il, the principal of Bomulseom School. “Parents were not alone.”

▲ Photo by Angela Kim
▲ Photo by Angela Kim

The goal of the school is to raise the children with their true nature intact. The entire curriculum is decided based on discussions with the students. There are three teachers, however they act as learning facilitators more than traditional teachers. No one calls them “teacher,” nor “Mr.” or “Mrs.” They use nicknames. There’s Joojak, the principal, and two other teachers called Hatnim and Dalnim, meaning the sun and the moon in Korean.

“No child is a trouble, each child simply has his or her own character,” said Jung.

Around 9 a.m. the students arrive at the school. Upon their arrival, students and teachers will sit down for an opening session, which is comparable to a homeroom morning assembly. Yet, during the session, it is the students who are the ones who talk. The discussion sets a schedule for the day, or what they want to do.

At the beginning of the semester, the students had decided to set a rough schedule for a week.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, students decided to focus on arts, crafts, and junk arts, in which recycled items are re-purposed as art materials. On Wednesdays, they usually walk around Odeung-bong, a small hill by the school. Thursdays they go see a movie or exhibition. Also included is that students walk one Olle course every Friday, hoping to finish all the courses. No one forces them to read or study, and yet students seem to enjoy reading books.

At the end of each day, before the after-school students arrive, they will also have a closing session, in which they resolve any issues or conflicts that may arise throughout the day.

Why alternative education though? Jung believes that current society is filled with people striving for success, yet the definition of success is so limited that most people can never be satisfied. People become more and more competitive, yet not everyone wins.

▲ Photo by Angela Kim
▲ Photo by Angela Kim

“In this system, not all children can be happy. But I believe that every child has a right to enjoy their life regardless of their academic achievements,” Jung said.

Currently, 11 elementary students are attending the school full-time, and about 35 students come everyday for after school sessions. However, though elementary education is required by law in Korea, none of the alternative elementary schools are licensed by the Ministry of Education. So students graduating from the school wishing to go back to public school will have to take a general education development test on their own as if they were home-schooled.

Jung says it is possible that alternative schools in Korea might remain isolated, but he hopes they will “provide a window for communication.”

▲ Photo by Angela Kim
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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