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(EDITORIAL from the Korea Times on March 12)

All News 09:03 March 12, 2016

Embracing multicultural kids
Equal education is key to migrant integration

Despite a noticeable increase in Korea in the number of multicultural children in the last decade, they have not received sufficient attention from the government and the schools. As a result, a significant portion of multicultural youths are heavily struggling to cope with life in Korea.

A recent study shows that one in five people from ages 15 to 24 from migrant families are neither going to school nor working. The percentage of NEET (not in education, employment or training) individuals is significantly higher compared to the same age group among native Koreans. Multicultural kids were also shown to be more prone to quitting school than native students.

The number of children in migrant families has increased around eight-fold in the last decade. In particular, the jump in the number of elementary school students is alarming. The latest statistics show that multicultural kids account for 2.2 percent of all elementary school students in Korea, marking the first time for the percentage to exceed the 2 percent mark. The reality is that the presence of multicultural children will continue to grow in Korean schools. The latest Statistics Korea data shows that 8.3 percent of all marriages were interethnic. But Koreans are still reluctant to embrace these people as one of us.

Some Koreans hold a hostile view of migrant families and see them as an additional burden to Korean society. Some even question why tax money should be paid to support "foreigners." This kind of short-sighted and discriminative mindset has no place in an era of multiculturalism. Migrant families are and will continue to be an indispensable part of our society as contributors to Korea's workforce. It is time for Koreans to stop dismissing these children as aliens and become more open-minded about their inevitability and the benefits of a multicultural Korea. By better accommodating migrant families, Korea can become more inclusive and globalized.

The key to migrant integration is education. Unless the education inequality of multicultural kids is addressed, migrant families will continue to be trapped by economic disparities. This is why policymakers need to place education at the forefront of their support system from multicultural families.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn announced a shift toward an education-first perspective in migrant family policy from the current priority placed on helping married immigrant couples' settlement during the government's Multicultural Family Policy Commission meeting on March 9. This is a timely policy direction because well-educated multicultural kids are essential for more stable migrant families. If their kids receive good education, they will be able to equip themselves with the necessary knowledge and skills for a better future in this country.

A survey by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family found that the primary reason for multicultural children's quitting school is bad relations with teachers and peers. Whole-hearted cooperation by teachers and students will be the most effective way to keep more multicultural kids in school.

Another major reason for multicultural students' leaving school is the language barrier. If they don't speak Korean, they will continue to be discriminated against in schools and at jobs. During the meeting chaired by the prime minister, the government said it will address the language issue by establishing more language and culture programs for multicultural children within schools. Expanding language programs will also go a long way in promoting their identity as Koreans.

The government should also expand family counseling services for multicultural youths. Many children face interruption in their education because of family troubles, such as parents' divorcing. Counseling cannot always provide a solution, but at least it can provide guidance and solace for children suffering because of a dysfunctional home. These and other tailor-made programs should be consistently implemented to ensure an uninterrupted education and a healthy upbringing for multicultural children.

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