Debate swirling over whether to preserve Sewol victims’ classrooms

Posted on : 2015-12-08 15:56 KST Modified on : 2015-12-08 15:56 KST
Danwon High School considering proposals to either maintain classrooms or clear them to make room for new students
Visitors and bereaved families at a Danwon High School classroom in Ansan
Visitors and bereaved families at a Danwon High School classroom in Ansan

As debate continues about whether to preserve the former classrooms of the students at Danwon High School who perished in the sinking of the Sewol Ferry, a proposal is being considered to move a container onto the school grounds to house the principal’s office, the administrative office, and the teachers’ room. The proposal was made because there are not enough classrooms to hold the 300 new students likely to join the school next year.

According to the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education on Dec. 7, if new students are allowed to enroll in the school next year, the lack of classrooms will probably interfere with classes, prompting the office to consider the option of moving a container onto the school grounds to provide extra space.

Currently, there is disagreement about whether to preserve the classrooms - which remain as the Danwon High School students left them when they boarded the fateful ferry - as a historical space or to create a memorial for the students elsewhere in order to make room for new students next year.

Since Ansan is a city in which high schools are “standardized” - under a policy known in Korea as pyeongjunhwa, meaning there’s no entry exam and the schools qualities are equal - third-year middle school students in the city‘s Danwon District will be applying to Danwon High School and six other high schools in the district between Dec. 14 and Dec. 18, according to the high school admission schedule.

At the beginning of Feb. 2016, 300 new students, divided into 12 classes, will be assigned to Danwon. If this happens, the school is likely to be eight classrooms short of the 12 it needs for first-year students.

The Gyeonggi education office finds itself pondering the idea of bringing in a container since it cannot ignore its academic schedule, even if the question about whether to preserve the classrooms remains under debate.

“Considering that 600 days have passed since the tragedy with the bodies of the missing unrecovered, the ship still underwater, and the special committee with little to show for its activity, we certainly understand why the bereaved families might be upset about disturbing the classrooms. Even so, we couldn’t ignore the need to get ready for new students,” a source at the education office said.

The Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU) held a press conference in front of the Gyeonggi education office on Monday and submitted a petition signed by 1,695 teachers to the office requesting that 10 second-year classrooms and one teachers’ room at Danwon High School be preserved as “memorial classrooms.”

“The classrooms at Danwon High School constitute the very memories of the Sewol tragedy. Under the principle that we must remember and not forget and act upon the Sewol Tragedy, these classrooms should be preserved as historical spaces and as the site of education for life, peace and healing,” the KTU said during the press conference.

By Hong Yong-duk, south Gyeonggi correspondent

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