The Korea Herald

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지나쌤

First-ever dedicated Suneung exam room for juvenile detainees set up

By Cho Min-jeong

Published : Nov. 15, 2023 - 17:21

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Young offenders study for the Suneung at Mandela Boys' School within the Seoul Nambu Correctional Institution on Monday. (Yonhap) Young offenders study for the Suneung at Mandela Boys' School within the Seoul Nambu Correctional Institution on Monday. (Yonhap)

When almost half a million students nationwide take the annual college entrance exam on Thursday, a small group of young offenders housed in a juvenile detention center will also be able to take the exam in a special testing room inside the center.

At Mandela Boy's School within Seoul's Nambu Correctional Institution, a dedicated exam room has been set up for the 2024 Suneung, South Korea’s college entrance exam.

This special exam room is for juvenile detainees aged 15 to 17 who are serving sentences ranging from 2 to 15 years. While there have been instances of youth offenders taking the Suneung before, having an exam room within a juvenile detention center is a first.

The Mandela Boys' School for boys under 17 opened in March within the all-ages correctional compound in southwestern Seoul.

Here, along with taking academic classes, 10 out of the 30 students are preparing for this year's Suneung. They engage in independent study from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., receiving guidance from university student volunteer tutors.

“While self-reflection and apologies to the victims are paramount, direct communication with victims is not allowed. Our aim is to offer an alternative path, guiding them away from repeating offenses and towards a different direction in society," Kim Jong-han, head of the Social Reintegration Department at the Seoul Nambu Correctional Institution, explained.

Addressing a question about whether victims of the offenders' crimes would approve of them studying for the exam, Kim said, “After a certain period, they have to reintegrate into society. If rehabilitation isn't achieved during their time here, there's a risk of recidivism, perpetuating the cycle of crime.”

Technical training to be a barista or baker is normally offered to juvenile detainees here, but Kim stresses the importance of providing them the same level of academic education that other students their age might receive. “Realizing the difficulty of the college entrance exam is one way to make them understand the broader challenges in society. They are still young, and we should provide opportunities for education. Shouldn't we give them a chance to reflect and apologize to the victims?”

Young offenders study for the Suneung at Mandela Boys' School within the Seoul Nambu Correctional Institution on Monday. (Yonhap) Young offenders study for the Suneung at Mandela Boys' School within the Seoul Nambu Correctional Institution on Monday. (Yonhap)

Among this year's Suneung students, one got the second-highest level on an English mock test in a recent academic achievement evaluation. Their future career aspirations range from being a chef to an interior designer to a veterinarian.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education supports the 10 students of Mandela Boys' School for the 2024 college entrance exam by setting up the dedicated exam rooms and covering all exam fees. They also provide exam supervisors and support staff.