Friday, December 9, 2011

Seoul Town Hall Meeting 2011

Seoul's 13th town hall meeting, probably the last to be held at Seosomun Annex before the inauguration of the new City Hall (on the other side of the avenue formerly known as Taepyeongno), was a great success.

Two month into his new job, Mayor Park Won-soon attended the whole meeting and confirmed his reputation by expressing empathy for everyone. He never intervened in English, but mentioned his experience abroad and (unlike yours truly) didn't need to use the translation device.

The audience (as usual international residents from all origins) was all ears, comfortably sitting at a table and enjoying a plate of fresh fruits - an echo to the hit drama of the year about free school lunches?

This meeting focused on education issues and particularly for multicultural households, in which kids often experience discrimination and bullying at school, and parents frustration - if not humiliation as sometimes highly educated people - on a daily basis.

I've often criticized the self-destructive trends in Korea's educational system, a system that evolved from equal-access and merit-based selection to today's abomination. If education drove Korea to success, it is now dragging it downwards and must be reformed to ensure the country's competitivity in a world where diversity and creativity must be encouraged, not anihiliated.

If this corrupt system is driving away Koreans from parenthood and even from the country, no wonder it's becoming a deterrent for foreigners. For every parent, there's a clock ticking and the closer their kids get to The Big Exam, the more they wish there were alternatives. We all know people who are considering moving abroad even if they would prefer to stay in Korea only because of this nonsense. What a waste: as elementary schools and universities are becoming more and more foreigner-friendly, everything seems to be made to ruin the rest.

Even more than new foreign schools, Korea needs to make sure its own people does not feel estranged from its own schools. Reforming the system will not only facilitate the integration of foreign and multicultural individuals, but the integration of all citizens into a sounder society.

Learning should always be stimulating and motivating, and I was pleased to hear that Seoul Metropolitan Government officials were about to promote extracurricular activities and sports at school.

Likewise, good news for pedestrians and bicycle riders: the city intends to continue its efforts in their favor, and will follow the same pattern as many Western countries, where pedestrians come first, then cyclists, then motor vehicles (as we speak, bicycles are treated as cars). Police authorities pledged to enforce more drastically the ban of motorcycles on sidewalks.

Seoul keeps improving because it's constantly taking into account all comments, complaints, or suggestions from its citizens, looking for answers and solutions, following up every issue.
Seoul Global Center changed everything for foreign communities, reaching far beyond the usual affluent expats to the populations that need the most help. The staff and volunteers are doing a tremendous job, and thousands of members of the international community keep contributing every year with precious insights and feed back, but Seoul can thank the man who's been leading this change and enabling this cultural shift: Alan Timblick, the Head of SGC.

As the capital city, Seoul can show the way in the much needed overhaul of education, and it can leverage what has now become a model institution across the region. You too can have your say and
contact the Seoul Global Center.

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2011 Town Hall Meeting Program:
. Opening (Hong Min-ji)
. Progress report (Alan Timblick)
. Opening remarks (Park Won-soon)
. Presentations: SMG Office of Education (Nam Mi-sook), Gwangjang Elementary School (Park Kyeong-a), Marriage Immigrant (Yamaguchi Hideko), Purun Citizen Community (Moon Jong-seok)
. Q&A, opinions (Jasmine Lee)
. Closing remarks (Park Won-soon)

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