In a recent article, republished in the Asian Correspondent, a 17-year old boy of Russian and Korean descent, was arrested for setting fires in his neighborhood. The article highlighted that the boy acted out on his frustrations of not being accepted in Korean society by burning garbage piles and subsequently, targeting a middle school with fire bombs.
The article went on to describe the troubles the boy had in school, from the bullying that led him to drop out in middle school and even after returning to attend high school, dropping out again due to the persistent bullying. His dangerous trajectory was created by the schools, his local community and larger Korean society by not providing a safe, non-discriminatory environment.
Recent Korean government statistics show that multiethnic Koreans face a greater dropout rate than their monoracial peers at 20 percent in the middle school and 40 percent in the high school levels. I think this article highlighted one of many cases.
“I am clearly Korean but to people around me, I am neither Korean nor Russian. I’m a half-breed.” the boy stated.
This is a poignant reminder that Korea fails to recognize the diversity of its own people. His frustrations led him to target the world that ostracized him and treated him as a perpetual outsider.
The South Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has started creating “separate but equal” schools as an answer to the growing diversity of the nation and as a solution to the growing drop out rates of multiethnic children. They have plans to open 26 pre-schools to help students of multicultural backgrounds “assimilate” into Korean society by learning Korean language, culture and customs. With the recent opening of Global Sarang School, an elementary school for multicultural/multiethnic children and the Dasom School, a technical high school for multicultural/multiethnic children, how will the creation of these schools eliminate racial prejudice?
As evidenced in this article, segregation will not solve discrimination. It is because multiethnic Korean children do not fit in the present Korean phenotype. The boy highlighted that his facial features, light eyes and hair, were the subjects of his taunts by classmates. Not his proficiency in Korean language nor his knowledge of Korean traditions. Most of the “separate but equal” schools have goals of multiethnic Korean children transitioning into regular Korean public schools. I doubt that these new schools will alleviate the pressing issue of discrimination within public schools or outside school walls.
Korean statistics estimate that by 2020 the multiethnic population will reach 1.6 million.
I am curious to see how Korea will further address the discrimination, xenophobia and racism in the public schools. Hopefully, the government will not continue to just place the responsibility of change and acceptance on multiethnic Korean children and their families. Korea has to re-evaluate what it means to be Korean.