Inside the Daeshin Church right behind the Ewha-Geumnan High School, there hangs a small shabby looking sign that reads Daeshin Yahak. Around sunset, old ladies and men with grey hair and wrinkled hands start taking seats and then a young teacher aged around twenty walks inside the room. The lights in Daeshin Yahak do not go out late at night until 10:20 p.m.
Daeshin Yahak is a school where elderly people without diploma complete their passion for learning. Daeshin Yahak, one of the few remaining yahaks, has been retaining its forebear’s purpose for 32 years to teach students hoping to learn.
Yahak is a Korean word meaning studying in the middle of the night, and the word has been commonly used to indicate night classes. The history of yahak is traced back to the 1900s. It has been an integral part of the Korean history and the characteristics of yahak have been changing over the years.
The early yahaks were founded mostly by the enlightenment movement activist for arousing national awareness, and as a socialist movement. Later, it has developed into a school where the underprivileged can receive non-formal education to prepare for school qualification exams. However, many of the yahaks nowadays had no choice but to close down due to financial difficulties and lack of enrolling students.
Daeshin Yahak hopes to give opportunities to those who unfortunately could not afford to study until now. It helps students to prepare for High School Entrance Exam and Graduation Certificate Exam for Self-study Students—exams that entitle students to receive equal qualification as middle school graduates and high school graduates respectively and grant eligibility to go on to next education course.
“I had to quit school when I was in second grade in elementary school because of the Korean War. Since then, I have always yearned to study again after marriage,” said Kim Jeong-ja who is aged 71, the second oldest student in Daeshin Yahak.
Daeshin Yahak teaches 10 subjects that contain five main subjects for the qualification exam and the other five optional subjects such as Composition, Literature and Art, Bible and Ethics as supplements.
Most of the applicants who studied at Daeshin Yahak passed qualification exams they took on Aug. 6. Hundred percent of the students of Daeshin Yahak passed High School Entrance Exam for Self-study Students and 17 students out of 18 students who applied for the High School Graduation Certificate Exam for Self-study Students passed the exam as well.
Besides academic activities, Daeshin Yahak gives students other experiences the students had missed during childhood.
“We hold a variety of monthly and annual events for the students such as field trips, sports day, Christmas event and graduation ceremony just as normal schools do,” said Kwon Ji-hye (Sungkyunkwan University, 4), one of the volunteers of Daeshin Yahak.
Many other yahaks are experiencing financial difficulties due to the decreasing amount of government subsidy. However, Daeshin Yahak still survives in a relatively favorable condition and manages its business with the helps of others. The school recruits teachers to volunteer to teach students.
Students do not pay tuition, however Daeshin Yahak runs with funds from Daeshin Church and Seodaemun-gu Office.
Most of the teachers at Daeshin Yahak are university students who do not seek any reward for their actions.
“Although I now volunteer as a teacher, it doesn’t feel like I am in the position of teaching somebody,” Choi Ji-in (Chung-Ang University, 2) said. “Rather, I think I am the one learning a lot from the elderly students’ passion and life experiences.”
Daeshin Yahak recruits teachers twice every year between January to February and July to August. Students who wish to apply for a volunteer position may find further information on the Daeshin Yahak homepage (http://cafe.daum.net/dsyh/).