As seen above, the younger students pushed giant balls, had small group games of tug-of-war, and running races in groups of six. The older students did a running race around the schoolyard that included hurdles and tumbling, as well as a relay race. One other activity I didn't understand at first, unable to figure out why the kids were all lined up until I finally noticed the very long rope they were holding.
What was interesting was just how elaborate all of the marching to get them into place was:
Of course, it shouldn't be so surprising that Korean schools still show the influence of militaristic education stretching back to the colonial period, as described here (see also, on a lighter note, here). Also related to schooling back in the day were the 'lunch box checks' of the 1970s which were put in place to limit the use of rice in meals (a policy which led to makgeolli consumption dropping and 'fake' (non-rice-based) soju attaining a popularity it still has today). Of course, lunch box checks were necessary back then since lunches weren't served by schools. A friend of mine who grew up in Hwagok-dong (the location of the first development in Seoul's west end in 1965) in the 70s and 80s remembers kids who came to school and just went outside at lunch and drank water because they had no lunch to eat. He also talked about seeing fried chicken restaurants but never being able to eat there, how, if you went to a meat restaurant the night before, you'd wear the same shirt the next day so as to show off its meat smell to everyone, and how bananas were super-expensive and kids who brought them to school were envied.
Nowadays, lunch is provided at school, for a fee. Not everyone can afford it, and as Yonhap noted (almost two months ago), the issue of free lunches has become a political issue ahead of the upcoming elections.
Opposition candidates are promising to exempt all elementary and middle school students from lunch expenses, seeking to appeal to low-income voters in the nationwide elections, which are seen as a litmus test for the Lee Myung-bak administration ahead of the 2012 presidential election.I imagine the good finance minister will be shocked when he learns about the health insurance and pension system, or if he reads anything about Park Chung-hee's five year economic plans. Of course he realizes that it's just opportunism on the part of the DP (especially when you see them saying, "There would be no problem if the government scrapped its four-river project and other exhibitive projects"), but it's much easier to shoot back and call 'em all commies.
The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) and other minor parties insist the provision of free lunches conforms to the Constitution, which stipulates free compulsory education through middle school. The opposition parties also contend that the current selective program hurts the self esteem of students from low-income families placed on the free school lunch list.
Currently, 970,000 million elementary and middle school students from low-income households are under the state-sponsored free meal program, according to government statistics.
The ruling Grand National Party (GNP) and the government have dismissed the opposition's calls as a "populist" tactic, arguing that providing free meals even to children from well-off families with taxpayer money could undermine the country's fiscal soundness.
Finance Minister Yoon Jeung-hyun said recently that he cannot understand the calls for universal free lunch, suggesting the demands may have been motivated by "socialism."
[The GNP] agreed Thursday to more than double the number of free-lunch students to 2 million by 2012, with the related annual budget estimated at 400 billion won. They also agreed to entirely computerize the social welfare information network so that the list of young schoolchildren put on the free lunch list would be kept secret.How long until that information is hacked and appears on the internet?
Of course, it wouldn't be Children's Day without a report like this:
A survey of 5,437 students ranging from fourth grade to high school seniors showed that 53.9 percent were happy with their lives. This is below the 26 OECD members’ average of 84.8 percent and the top-ranked Netherlands, where 94.2 percent of students said they were happy.Not that anyone is shocked by this, or by reports that fitness levels among students are falling.
I didn't give any of this much thought on the holiday itself, mind you, choosing to enjoy a barbecue on this stretch of the Han River instead...