Last month, the residents of Gang-seo District were all over the news for their fierce opposition against the establishment of a special needs school in their area.
The construction of the school has been on hold since 2013 due to strong objection of the residents, whose main concern is that the school will decrease real estate value, which is already in decline. Instead of a special needs school, residents are demanding a new medical center.
Discrimination and hostility towards those with speical needs is not uncommon in Korea, where prejudice against such people reflect the poor management and lack of special learning institutions. According to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, there are 29 special needs schools to accomodate the 12,800 registered as speical needs students. And though these schools can only take up to one third of the students, no special needs public school has been built in Seoul since 2002.
The statistics bid similar results for the nation as a whole, according to a report by the Ministry of Education. South Korea’s 174 special needs schools, both public and private accommodate less than 30 percent of the 89,353 students with special needs. The severe lack of institutions push these children into regular schools, where the environment is hostile both physically and socially.
Though an inclusive education for special needs students is advocated by many around the world, the Korean society and education system is far from being apt to accommodate these children in regular classrooms. The social stigma around those with special needs, and Korea’s notoriously competitive education system can only result in a toxic environment for these students.
Therefore, though inclusive institutions where students can learn to accept their peers without prejudice is important and more plausible in earlier years of development; secondary education for special needs students is essential for ensuring the better future of these students as adults. To build a stronger community that is diverse and inclusive, we must allow everyone to be educated to their maximum potential.
We must ensure the educational rights of everybody, regardless of their strengths and weaknesses.