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A common question we get from South Koreans? "Do North Korean refugees really need English?" We’ve found that North Korean refugees struggle with adjusting to life here because of that lack of English.
* Classes in English: Many struggle when classes are conducted in English, as they often fail to understand assignments or lectures, based on their feedback to us in counseling sessions.
* College dropouts: The number of North Korean college students who fail to graduate is about twice that of South Korean students, and the number that return to college is less than half that of South Koreans. Source: Koo Ja-Eok et al. (2012) and the Ministry of Unification’s Hanawon (2013).
* Leaves of absence: 6.2% had experienced drop-outs and class failures; 17.8% had taken a leave of absence; and 14% said they were currently on a leave of absence. Source: Yoo Si-Eun et al. (2013)
* English is a major reason they dropout: The most commonly cited reasons for taking a leave of absence or dropping out of college included: ‘to study English before returning to college’ (32.7%); ‘to earn a living’ (28.6%); and ‘having difficulties with keeping up with classes’ (12.2%). Among those who never took a leave but were considering it, the most cited reasons aside from ‘to earn a living’ were also: ‘to study English before returning to college’ (33.3%); and ‘having difficulties with keeping up with classes’ (33.3%).” Yoo Si-Eun et al. (2013).
* NK refugee students graduate at the bottom of their classes, if they graduate at all, according to Sogang University professor Park Eun-sung. Plus, there is often "affirmative grading" to allow them to pass.
About 35% of NK refugee adults in South Korea are unemployed, 80% reportedly work in menial and low-skilled jobs, incomes reportedly are 50 percent below those of South Koreans, and suicide rates are even higher than those of South Koreans.
Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center is an all-volunteer non-profit in Seoul that has matched 264 North Korean refugees with 539 volunteer English tutors and coaches since its founding in 2013.
It aims to assist North Korean refugees in preparing for their futures and transitioning to life outside of North Korea by providing them with free English learning opportunities. Refugees develop Individual Education Plans identifying their learning goals to plan for future academic and employment opportunities. At monthly “language matching” sessions, refugees can choose multiple tutors or coaches. This gives refugees flexibility to study at their convenience developing different English skills with a variety of tutors from different counties using diverse teaching styles in a range of accents.
In addition to 264 refugees who have studied in the project as of February 2017, TNKR has a waiting list of more than 70 refugees seeking to join and previous students routinely express eagerness to return. In feedback sessions, refugees cite a few key factors.
One, self-selection. They can choose tutors. Many say that this is the first time in their lives that they have had the power to choose.
Two, they can choose as many tutors as they want. One refugee studied with 18 tutors during 2014, studying as many as 35 hours a week. Refugees choose an average of three tutors at each monthly session.
Three, 1:1 sessions talking with native and fluent language speakers improves their confidence to try English in other situations.
Four, the lack of a curriculum means they can develop classes based on their own interests and needs. After an initial adjustment, some refugees take charge of their classes, analyzing tutors to figure out the strengths of each one, then focusing on the strengths of those tutors to learn more efficiently.
Your support can help us keep our activities free for refugees so they can study without financial hardship being a barrier.