Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Programmatic View - Experiences at Suwon High School for Agriculture Sciences

The past two days have been inviting, exciting, challenging, and mind altering. We have finally reached the point in our trip in which is one of the main reasons for traveling here. 

We have enjoyed two full days touring and teaching at one of the most prestigious agricultural high schools in the Republic of Korea, Suwon High School for Agriculture Sciences. Suwon High School is one of three major types of high schools found in the Republic of Korea. It is considered a technical high school, similar the career and technical high school programs that can be found in the United States. Throughout today’s post, I would like to give you a little insight as to the student life at Suwon, as well as define some major highlights that all of us were able to take away from this extraordinary program.

Student Life

Student life is somewhat different from what some of us envisioned going into this program. Some students at Suwon High School reside in the on campus dormitories, while others live at home and commute. 

The high school has three grades at the high school level, known as grades one, two, and three. Obviously this differs from the United States because we are used to labeling grades from first to twelve. Students in Korea complete grades one through six at the elementary level. They complete grades seven through nine at the middle school level. (These grades start over and are known as grades one, two, and three.) They finish their schooling with grades ten through twelve at a high school which is chosen based upon their grades and review of a submitted application. (These grades also are known as grades one, two and three.). 

Students in Korea, upon completion of primary school, apply for and choose whether they want to or are able to attend a Meister school, technical high school, or common high school. All schools are different, based upon the students within them and their future career paths.

A typical school day for students at Suwon is as follows: Begin the school day at 8am. End the school day at 4pm. Participate in mandatory club activities until 6pm. Eat dinner. Attend free study sessions at school from 7pm to 9pm. If desired, attend dormitory study sessions from 9pm until 11pm. 

You are probably thinking…WOW, what a rough day! That is exactly what I was thinking. Students and teachers as well are putting in countless hours to make education their number one priority at this stage of life. 

Students are allowed to choose two areas of education to “major” in, but all are required to take certain general courses. 

Beyond differences of structure of the school day, I would like to introduce you to some of the very powerful concepts that Suwon High School has implemented and mastered, which is allowing their students to be ultimately successful.

Connections to U.S. School Based Agriculture Education

As our agriculture education programs in the United States follow similar models and concepts of why agriculture education is important and how it can be effective, both nations carry these ideas out quite differently. Below are a few examples.

1.       Many facilities such as greenhouses, animal research labs, and mechanical shops are available and utilized as lab space for students to work as groups to develop and complete research and other viable projects, where each student has a direct role but gets to learn hands on as a group. This relates to our Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE) projects, in which most U.S. students complete individually.

2.       Alumni are an irreplaceable part of student learning at Suwon High School. Creating relationships with former students allows Suwon to bring in these alumni and have them share real world work experiences with the students on a daily basis. This not only allows the students to determine what it is they really wish to do after high school, but also helps create relevance to the labs and classroom instruction they are receiving in school. Like Suwon, we strive to bring professionals into our classrooms and create long lasting relationships with alumni in order to benefit our current students, but most likely, few programs in the grand scheme of things, have mastered this task because it takes time, reputation, and organization.

3.       Suwon is set up so that grade one (10th grade) students receive hands on laboratory instruction most of their school year, while grade two students (11th grade) receive a combination of laboratory and classroom instruction. In grade three (grade 12) much more emphasis is placed on taking the practical knowledge acquired throughout labs in previous grades and focusing on the application of that acquired knowledge through classroom instruction. In the United States, we often see this approach being completed in just the opposite manner, with the thought process that older students who have gained trust and have proved a specific maturity level, get to take advantage of participating in more lab-based classes.

We obviously can relate these concepts to our own agricultural education programs in the United States. Are there similarities? Yes! Are there differences? Of course! However, I believe a lot of benefits can be reaped from observation of successful programs, such as the one we have Suwon High School for Agriculture Sciences.   

Regardless of similarities and differences, all of us teachers will take new ideas back to our own programs to make them better. This was an absolute positive experience, teaching in, and observing the amazing teachers, students, and facilities at Suwon High School for Agriculture Science, a place where students accept responsibility for their learning, known their expectations, are creative, and express excitement, enthusiasm, and pride at their school.

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