SEOUL (Reuters Life!) - The first lesson given to South Korean high school students on how to unify with their rivals is that North Koreans call the children’s game “paper, rock,” without the “scissors,” but they play it the same way.
The biggest lesson given at the only school in South Korea where unification is a required course is that one Korea is an admirable dream that needs to be realized, but one that will be a daunting task because of how far the neighboring nations have drifted apart since they were formed more than 60 years ago.
“If you are Korean, you should hope for unification and it is part of your responsibility,” said Hwang Jung-sook, principal of the West Seoul Life Science High School.
The school began its unification course in 1996, when tensions were running high and dreams of unity were overshadowed by worries of the Pyongyang’s early pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Since then, tensions have seen their ups and downs while more of South Korea’s youth raised in relative affluence have come to see their neighbors as people in an impoverished foreign country speaking a strange version of Korean rather than as brothers on the same peninsula.
South Koreans have also grown highly cautious of unification due to estimates that it would cost about $1 trillion to absorb the North, which could wreck the South’s economy and saddle it with massive debt for decades.
The North’s broken down economy, with an estimated yearly GDP of $17 billion is two percent the size of the South’s, the world’s most wired country that produces as many cars in about four hours as North Korea produces in a year.
But unification may come sooner than expected with a South Korean TV broadcaster reporting on Monday leader Kim Jong-il is suffering from pancreatic cancer and may not have long to live.
The course called “The Road to Unification” was drawn up by teachers at the school with help from South Korea’s Unification Ministry and is held once a week for all students.
The lessons include about 2,000 words from the North Korean version of the local language such as “head cover” for what people in the South call a “wig,” lessons on the Korean War and points on how a unified state should be run under the South’s democratic and capitalist system.
The school also hosts an exhibit hall of North Korean goods from mushrooms to postage stamps to school textbooks and displays that include a detailed accounts of the types of lapel pins worn by North Korean adults. The pins with portraits of current leader Kim Jong-il or state founder Kim Il-sung, which are earned, are to be worn above the heart by comrades 17 and older.
The course tries to steer clear of the highly emotional and ideologically driven debates about North Korea in the South, where all able bodied men are required to serve in the military to defend against a possible attack by the North.
Most South Korean students only have a vague idea about the workings of North Korea and are fuzzy on details of when the Korean War started and who fought in the conflict, polls showed.
Most North Korean students outside the capital Pyongyang attend ramshackle schools, battle hunger and are often forced to serve as soldiers, farmers or factory workers by the time they reach high school age, human rights groups have said.
South Korean teens know little about the life of their North Korean counterparts, whose curriculum builds devotion to Kim Jong-il and whose art projects include coloring pictures of North Korean soldiers throwing hand grenades at U.S. tanks.
“The students’ ideal of unification has not changed but their passion for it has dwindled over the years,” said school founder Cho Dong-rae.
Editing by Miral Fahmy