SEOUL -- South Korea's education ministry will assist children with a foreign parent or young North Korean defectors in adapting to South Korean society through a special mentorship program involving university students.
According to data released by the South Korean government, there are at least 1.1 million families with at least one parent from foreign backgrounds. Children from these families, also known as "multicultural families," sometimes find it challenging to adapt to new environments such as schools and communities due to racial discrimination or language barriers.
The number of North Korean defectors continued to rise since 2000, reaching an annual average of up to 3,000 between 2003 and 2011. However, the number drastically reduced to less than 100 during the COVID-19 pandemic due to Pyongyang's extreme measures to shut off access from foreign countries to North Korea, where the public health system is outdated and unprepared.
Over the last decade, at least 30 North Korean defectors have returned to their hometowns after finding it challenging to adapt to South Korea's political and societal systems, which are based on democracy and capitalism. North Korean defectors undergo a series of screenings and programs to minimize the impact of adapting to a new world completely different from their homeland.
The education ministry and the Korea Student Aid Foundation, a state-operated student scholarship foundation, announced that a total of 15.6 billion won ($117.5 million) will be allocated to help children from multicultural families and young North Korean defectors adapt to school environments. University students will be assigned as mentors to elementary, middle, and high school students. Additionally, university students participating in the government program will receive scholarships.
According to the ministry, there are 181,178 students from multicultural families or North Korean defectors. The program will be launched in March to assist young students at the beginning of the new semester.
"We will continue to provide support so that, regardless of their backgrounds, every student can incubate their potential to become key members of our society," said Minister of Education Lee Ju-ho in a statement on February 6.
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