When people think about out-of-school teens (OOSTs), a host of negative images come to mind, such as high-school dropouts, maladaptation, domestic violence, and juvenile delinquency. As a result, we often forget that, just like the rest of us, OOSTs have dreams and aspirations too, the fulfillment of which can lead them to become productive members of society. Almost 60,000 teenagers leave school in Korea every year, with the number of OOSTs estimated to have reached 280,000 nationwide today. Once teenagers leave school, there are few other places for them to go for help and a sense of belonging. OOSTs are therefore more vulnerable to and tempted by crime, and are thus in need of additional support and protection.
Acknowledging the importance of preventing OOSTs from slipping into a life of crime and ensuring their growth as mature citizens of a democratic society, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has launched various projects to help them.
We tend to think of OOSTs as maladapted kids who have no interest in learning and are only good at causing trouble. This stereotype may be true in some cases. In reality, however, it may have a nocebo effect on the self-image of OOSTs. To illustrate, although a doctor prescribes the right medicine for a patient, it could well have no effect if the patient does not trust in its efficacy. The impact of a negative self-image can be as powerful as placebo-like optimism.
In fact, a number of psychologists have already conducted well-noted experiments showing how expectations have a self-fulfilling tendency. Consider Robert Rosenthal’s study on schoolchildren. After testing a group of schoolchildren on their intelligence quotient (IQ), he randomly assigned 20 percent of the children to a class, telling the homeroom teacher that these children were especially intelligent and talented with great promise for achieving academic excellence. When the psychologist returned to the school eight months later to test the students’ IQ again, the children who had been assigned to the alleged top-20-percent class showed improved academic performance and higher IQ scores.
Experiments like this bear important implications for how we treat OOSTs. Children and teenagers are still developing, and their personalities and traits are shaped, in large part, by the expectations others have of them. This is a lesson that we should all take to heart.
|A class on martial arts tricking||A class on TV acting|
Seoul’s OOST Support Center provides diverse services in support of OOSTs and alternative secondary schools. The efforts made by the center to help OOSTs in 2015 include providing career training for OOSTs on probation in partnership with the prosecutor’s office. All program participants were very satisfied with their training, and they all successfully completed the program. Although they may have been indicted for such crimes as larceny and battery, they have not altogether given up on their lives and chances for personal growth. They participated in all sessions at the center with great eagerness and enthusiasm. In addition, their experience highlighted the need to diversify the regular school curriculum to better reflect the diverse interests and aptitudes of students.
|Film production class||Career Camp|
In 2016, the center teamed up with the family court, this time to provide career training and organize other related activities for teens who have been put on probation by the court for delinquent behavior. The seven teens referred by the court were invited to explore TV acting, film production and editing, and martial arts tricking and attend the Career Camp.
During the TV acting class, the teens were given parts of the script for the summer hit TV series Descendants of the Sun, giggling while repeating the famous line uttered by the show’s hero: “I did that difficult mission!”
The martial arts tricking class and other physical activities provided welcome outlets through which the teens could exert their excess energy and vigor. They learned proper kicking technique and tips for safe tumbling with great enthusiasm.
|GED test prep support||College entrance fair|
Having to sit still and not do anything can be tormenting for today’s passionate, talented, and energetic youth. Whether enrolled in school or not, teens are equally passionate about exploring new life paths and satisfying their curiosity about the world. When they received the invitation to Career Camp, the participants were filled with great excitement. While making camp rules and deciding what to do there together, they felt as if they had been at the camp before. The participants were invited to hike along the “Path of Life” trail. They soon began complaining about how tired and achy their legs were, but the teens encouraged one another to keep going and complete the journey. The hiking trip was a great lesson in perseverance.
Another such lesson awaited them as they headed to the shore to fish and had to wait a long time until they finally caught something. The teens played various recreational games together on the beach and also learned to perform some of the most basic life skills, such as cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, and cleaning up. After the career-training program was over, many of the teens recalled their day at Career Camp as the highlight of their experience.
|Graduation ceremony|| “SONAGI”: Free Space for OOSTs |
(Gangdong-gu Youth Support Center)
Almost 70,000 teens drop out of school annually in Korea, with 12,000 of them concentrated in Seoul. Some of them left school happily and willingly in search for alternative learning opportunities. Others, however, had become lost in life and were forced out of school. Not all OOSTs start out by robbing or beating people; many respond positively to warm helping hands, regaining their focus and passionately pioneering new paths in their lives.
The Seoul OOST Support Center will continue to do its best to support the dreams of these teens. The center’s main goal is to protect them against the harsh stigmatizing effect of social prejudice by offering them counseling and career support in cooperation with law enforcement authorities. With sufficient social support, these teens have the opportunity to correct their mistakes and get back on the right track toward realizing their dreams and achieving personal growth.