This interview is part of a project named Stories of Inspiring Teachers that aims to share innovative practices around the world and explore the benefits of teaching life skills (communication, collaboration, creativity, self awareness, critical thinking) at school.
Chanpil Junginvited me to is Future Class Network Learning Lab, a new school he founded in March 2017, based on his previous experiences in education. It was a cold day in Seoul, and Christina, an English teacher, some of her students, and him welcomed me with a cup of coffee as I discovered the place: only four rooms on a building’s third floor. It is small but luckily, they are waiting for another site, much more school-like, for next year. We sat in one of the room to have a chat.
Context of South Korean educational system
In South Korea, education is such a major concern that it has been called « an education fever ». Its educational model is seen as a model as it is top-performing in reading literacy, mathematics, and sciences according to PISA ranking, and it has one of the world’s highest-educated labor forces among OECD countries. It has been praised by the US President Barack Obama for its rigor and aroused the British Ministry of Education’s interest.
In such an efficient country, why would innovation occur? When we take a closer look at it, such great results come at a big cost. The relentless pressure means Korea holds another much less enviable record, that of having the highest suicide rate of industrialized OECD countries, particularly among those aged 10–19. It has been criticized for stifling creativity and innovation and described as intensely and brutally competitive. The school days are seemingly endless, as many students add private-tuition before or after class. One of Chanpil’s students told me that in his previous school, he would often leave school at 11 PM and feel such a pressure that it threatened his mental health. Those extended school days are increasing student passivity and drowsiness, which becomes another issue for educators.
Luckily, the South Korean Ministry of Education is open to innovation and provides a sympathetic ear to those eager to solve these problems.
Flipped classroom discovery: the Keokuro Class Project
Jung Chanpil is one of those. He was a documentary director working for KBS, a public broadcasting company in Korea. While he was working on a documentary on the 21st-century educational revolution in 2013, he met Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two chemistry teachers in Colorado who gave birth to Flipped Class Learning answering one question: « what is the best use of face-to-face time with students? » Thrilled by this exciting encounter he led an experiment in a middle school set in a low-income neighborhood, in Busan. He recorded the work of three teachers flipping partly or completely their classrooms and their spectacular results with: their students achieved a jump of 20 to 50 points on a 100-point scale compared to their achievement the previous semester. Michael Horn, a journalist in digital education, has nothing but praises about this experiment. In the introduction of his article, he expresses his admiration: “I witnessed the potential for blended learning to boost Korean students’ achievement, engagement, and happiness. I also saw blended learning’s power to boost the morale of the teachers and community.” The Flipped Class experiment was entirely filmed by Jung and broadcasted on national television in three consecutive episodes during March to May of 2014.
For his documentary, Jung Chanpil as also met Sugata Mitra involved in the “Hole in the Wall” experiment, who has been a great inspiration to him. In 1999, the Hole in the Wall experiment was first conducted in India: a computer was placed in a kiosk in a wall in a slum at Kalkaji, Delhi and children were allowed to use it freely. The experiment aimed at proving that children could be taught by computers very easily without any formal training, what Mitra termed as Minimally Invasive Education. He then gave an inspirational TED Talk about this.
Following those discoveries, Chanpil launched the The Keokuro Class Project which aims at creating a collaborative peer learning environment where students use various methods including flipped learning. Chanpil based his project on the P21’s “21st education Framework”, which defines the major skills for tomorrow, and he has the support from OECD 2030 education project, which is working with OECD countries to specify what education should be for the years to come. Moreover, the Ministry of Education in Korea released a new policy to officially implement flipped classroom in science subject in public schools from 2018.
Christina, now part of the Future Class Network Learning Lab, started flipping her classroom in 2014. She tells me about her first apprehensions: “How could I change my way of teaching? I felt I had not enough time to engage in such a project and I was afraid it wouldn’t be working how I wanted. Although our school system is rigorous, I could change a little bit, enough to see improvements: my students gained in confidence, they were more active and comfortable. They were excited to come to my class! It was my first step.”
The World’s Biggest Class Project
At the same time, Chanpil launched a new idea: The World’s Biggest class project. This is a project-based learning in which students have to identify and solve their community problem with tools they developed in their classroom. It is designed to empower students and build a clear link between school and real life. Students are becoming active and a part of their community as it fosters their creative skill and their ability to solve problems in a collaborative environment. This project is in keeping with Ashoka’s “Changemaker” principle and applies Design thinking as it taught in Standford D-School. It is a significant trend emerging globally in education to make students problem-solvers in their community as I observed in India (The Riverside School) or Japan (The Tohoku Project).
This project is led by teachers on their own which explains why two of the students there during our interview had experimented it although they came from different schools. One worked on re-designing the school’s parking and the intersections around to keep a safe path for students entering or leaving. The other worked on the problem of slippery hallway during rainy days, and she created a communication campaign to get some change in everyone’s behavior.
Future Class Network
Following the Busan experiment, Jung Chanpil created an organization called “Future Class Network” (FCN) which started gathering Korean educators who tried to flip their classrooms and now is an extended community of teachers engaged in Keokuro Class project or in the World’s Biggest Class project. In 2017, the FCN has trained more than 5 000 teachers and has now around 16 000 members. The FCN community continues to expand in Korea and beyond.
It is a close-knit online community in which teachers meet offline at least once a month. «It’s crucial to give a sense of belonging, tells Chanpil. » Sharing experiences, resources, fears, and success forms the core of this network. In that purpose they even created different textbooks for every subject, to help new teachers with resources when they start to get engaged in this practice, and now they are thinking about translating them.
Future Class Network Learning Lab
In March 2017 opened the FCN Learning Lab, an innovative school implementing all Chanpil’s projects to create an active learning environment, where students are encouraged to collaborate and express themselves without apprehension. This class has 12 students without any separation of grades. “How to learn” instead of “what to learn” has become the focus and encourages students to solve problems in the real world.
In only several months, the whole team noticed significant academic improvements in their students that Chanpil showed me with pride when I expressed potential criticism about student-led learning that might level down standards. Indeed, nearly all of them improved significantly, and when I saw their work, I was impressed: it was ambitious and creative. Students showed me photos of them working during a lesson, and I saw collaboration and passion. They explained how they could design the class for the others students and I saw the pride they fell at it. Twice per semester, they organize an exhibition to display their learning, which makes them realize how much they learned during that period. Followed a long discussion about communication skills as they fell it was a major change in their education in the FCN Learning Lab: in their traditionnal school they completely lost them trying to avoid conflict and conversation, but here, by challenge, Chanpil has a motto: “We should look for conflict! We need it, it is very positive, in my mind, as it requires communication and develops empathy.”