The story of Gotjawal Primary School


Young people in Korea these days often live in cities made of cement and concrete. They are able to interact less and less with their neighbors and their circle of life has gradually become a three-point line of school, cram school, and then home.

While it is right to tell these children to spend less time inside playing computer games, living in a city like this means that there is little else for them to do. After all, there are no places for them to run around.

While the older generation of this era will always feel sorry for their children, it is the greed of the adults who removed all the nature from these areas that deprives the children of a place to play.

However, there is a program on Jeju that gives students a chance to play and study in nature. This is a school located in Seonheul-ri named “Gotjawal Primary School.”

There is a rumor that children in the area want to attend the school so badly that parents keep their children in line by saying, “if you keep misbehaving, we won’t send you to the Gotjawal School.”

Such a threat is said to work like magic and encourages the children to behave well. However, what exactly is it about this school that makes kids so excited to go there?

Gotjawal of the children

The Gotjawal School was established in 2006 and, according to owner Moon Yong-po, without formal permission. It is not an alternative school, but a gap school. The children who attend take classes during weekends and school vacations.

The courses available at the school include peace and the environment, the value of sharing, and experience projects.

The students swim in various places in Jeju together. The amazing thing is that when they play together, they grow up very quickly and their knowledge of the world is gradually enriched. This is teacher Moon’s way of teaching.

Moon’s role is similar to that of the president of a university. The school is run by an operating committee composed of a total of 14 teachers and volunteers. As a teacher, Moon can help the children one by one to learn how to contribute to society and, at the same time, learn from the other children. Like the old saying goes, “children are also teachers.”

Environment, peace, and sharing

Because of Jeju’s unique terrain, the Gotjawal is a piece of barren land in the valley of long ago. Due to its ecological value, it became certified and this piece of barren land gradually turned into the lung of Jeju island. Moon linked the past and present Gotjawal together with his educational philosophy.

In spring, the children gather wild vegetables and make their own vegetable pancake. In summer, they go to the seaside to collect shells. In autumn, they use plants they have grown to make soybean sauce and in winter, they eat roasted sweet potato together. To welcome the second year of spring, they observe the hibernating buds.

As the seasons change, the students can learn and experience the value of nature and this way of learning will let children grow emotionally. They will learn to love others and to love nature.

Value travelling

The activities in the Gotjawal school are simple but filled with wisdom. When the students play, study, work, and experience with Moon, they learn through nature.

These activities are not only shaped by the philosophy of Moon’s life, but also through the spontaneous activities made by the children. Moon only helps the children to master the direction, the rest is determined and carried out by the students themselves.

Every month the students go on valuable trips under different themes like ‘respect for travel’, ‘etiquette travel’ and ‘gentle travel’. At the Gotjawal school, all courses teach values such as respect, manners, and caring for others.

Suddenly I am curious about the future lives of the students at this school. Maybe they will achieve world fame, money, a stable career and ‘success’, but really it seems like what Moon teaches goes beyond this kind of materialistic success.

What they pursue is a happy life, and living with the people they love. They want to help people and be close to nature. What they really want to pursue is a meaningful and happy life.