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S Korean school bans students from having tuition

SEOUL (Korea) — Set up a decade ago with a strict “no tuition” rule among its founding principles, Ewoo School has become a support system for South Koreans who are taking a stand against the tuition craze.

SEOUL (Korea) — Set up a decade ago with a strict “no tuition” rule among its founding principles, Ewoo School has become a support system for South Koreans who are taking a stand against the tuition craze.

Ms S S Lee, 42, whose daughter is an Ewoo student, said: “We try to maintain the spirit of not sending our children to hagwon (Korean for private-learning institution), giving each other support whenever we felt tempted or unsure.”

The school in Seongnam, which is an hour’s drive from downtown Seoul, has more than 400 students. It provides education at middle- and high-school levels (equivalent to secondary and junior college education, respectively, under Singapore’s education system).

Parents who wish to enrol their children in Ewoo have to sign an undertaking not to engage home tutors or put their kids in a hagwon.

Its middle-school students who are found to have received tuition on the sly will be considered less favourably for enrolment into its high-school programme. Those who are caught having tuition while in high school will not be issued with recommendation letters for university admission.

On Ewoo’s stance, its English teacher Kim Jinwon said: “Other students will be anxious if they found out their peers go for tuition (and) they will not be able to focus on learning in school”.

Despite its tough stance against tuition, the school is highly popular: Over the last three years, an average of 740 applicants each year signed up for 60 places in its middle school, while about 300 vied for 80 vacancies in its high school.

As part of the admission process, parents and their children must write an essay explaining their motivation and learning philosophies. Teachers will also interview parents to ensure they share the school’s education goals. For admission to its high school, the interview accounts for 60 per cent of the final outcome, while a student’s middle-school grades make up the rest.

Mr Kim noted that about 90 per cent of Ewoo’s final-year middle-school pupils scored above the national average in English this year. Students’ results in other subjects are comparable with those of neighbouring schools.

Ewoo conducts after-school classes, which include those initiated by students who wish to have remedial lessons. Educators also identify gifted pupils and give them additional coaching to stretch their potential. The school also conducts preparatory courses for students taking the university-admission exams.

Ms Alexis van den Heever, the school’s English teacher, said: “The difference from hagwon is that school teachers, who understand the students, conduct the teaching ... we do not cram lessons.”

Without tuition, students would realise that school is the only place for them to learn, said Mr Kim, adding that he felt a great deal of responsibility to make sure his students understood his lessons.

Ewoo student Kim Hye Ri, 16, used to have tuition for four hours a week when she was in elementary school. She said she took about a year to get used to not having tuition, which meant she had to constantly motivate herself. But, as a result, she feels “free to learn” by herself and “be independent”. NG JING YNG

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