Since 2016, Free Semester System has been implemented to all middle schools in which students are to find out their own dreams and talents. In a free semester, being free from the burdens of school records, students can experience a variety of things they have not been normally exposed to in the regular curriculum. Free Semester System is to be widely divided into two parts; that is, subject and free semester activity. Subjects such as English and science are dealt with in creative forms like projects and discussions in the morning class. Activities including career exploration, club activity, and so on are allocated to the afternoon classes. Through this special semester, students are expected to be able to explore their aptitude as well as to learn how to design their future by themselves.
However, there has been a skeptical view of Free Semester System. In particular, since there is no official test, many parents are worried about the decline of children’s academic ability. Furthermore, for teachers who are even now suffering from a heavy workload, it seems to be putting more responsibility on them. Above all, Free Semester System in itself has been strongly questioned by many people challenging if it can be successful and if it is necessary in the Korean educational field. In order to answer this question, it might be valuable to reflect on how it was implemented in model schools in Korea. Also, it would be helpful to listen to the stories of successful experiences from other educationally developed countries.
From 2013 to 2015 some schools were selected as model schools for Free Semester System. One of them is Jochiwon Girl’s Middle School, which is not far from KNUE area. Based on the interview with one of the teachers and the school’s report about free semester, we can examine what free semester practically looks like. Also, we can get a hint of what we need to do for better adaptation of the free semester. In Jochiwon Girl’s Middle School, the program of various career explorations and job experiences, in particular, was featured. It seems that in the pre-survey responses students showed that they were mostly interested in finding their aptitude and interest during the free semester. Following that, there was a program called “Dream Job Go” where students could have an actual experience of 12 jobs chosen based on students’ interest. In addition, students visited Chung-Cheong University and cooperative institutions such as Korea Press Foundation and Community Media Foundation to experience various careers.
Yet, several negative aspects and what lacks in current the free semester can be found in model schools. It reveals that some students became demotivated to study for it is unusual not to have a relative evaluation of course work in Korea. Furthermore, despite sharing ideas and resources for the free semester occurred a lot, a systematic teaching curriculum has still not been settled within the teachers since it has had a short history. More importantly, when it comes to “free semester activity,” there are a fewer number of programs provided to students. Local community institutions’ and companies’ cooperation is also lacking in comparison to other countries. Thus, there has been a worried voice that Free Semester System can become just a temporary experiential activity with no meaningful effects to or for students.
Then, how can we prevent Free Semester System from being moot? The meaningful answer may be to determine how it was settled and functioned effectively in other countries. For example, especially Ireland can be a great model for us. Unlike other European countries, the educational situation there is not quite far from Korea in that parents’ expectations for children and having an educational fervor is significantly high. Their main goal of learning in school is to go to a prestigious university just like Korea. The surprising thing is that, despite the high competition of education, most of the Irish and even parents think a transition year, which is similar to the free semester, is absolutely needed for students’ future. Within Irish society, it is generally agreed that there are more crucial things which can be only found during the transition year than entering a great university. They experienced in person that the students who went through the transition year got higher scores in the long term. Students became more motivated about learning and developed various skills, such as communication, cooperation, and leadership. In short, with 40 years of history utilizing the transition year, it has been socially trusted by the community members.
In the case of Denmark and Britain, they reveal the importance of strong connections between schools and other cooperative institutions for career exploration and job experience. The interesting thing regarding Denmark is that it is “the workers union” and “the association of employers” which made a job education curriculum, not schools themselves. Thus, it is the direct evidence that their whole society is strongly supporting students’ career exploration program. Likewise, in the case of Britain, there is one company named Sainsbury within which various job experience programs have been operated. Believing that they are doing worthwhile tasks for the local community, around 40,000 of all employees in this company cooperate in this program. In terms of a career exploration program, the company is voluntarily playing a leading role with the assistance from the government.
No doubt that the ultimate purpose of Free Semester System itself is great. Yet, as seen above, it is not perfectly ready to be settled to show its true effect. It needs to be settled by continuous effort of the government, universities, companies and local communities. Further to this, this truly needs frequent communication and sharing of ideas by the members of community with students. Another thing to be pointed out is that students are passionately interested in figuring out their interests, along with how they can design their future. Like the examples of some of the European countries, we need to build up strong connections between schools and the other institutions, which provide various programs for students. In addition, considering it took 40 years for the transition year in Ireland to be settled within society, it is now a hasty judgment that the free semester is just meaningless and should not be applied to Korea. Rather, giving appropriate feedback, we need to allow the time for the free semester to show its true power.
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