Korea is known internationally both for its love of gaming and its hardcore school system, but rarely do the two ever collide. That is until instead of punishing underperforming students for their gaming habits, Principal Bang Seung-Ho of the Ahyeon Polytechnic School decided to embrace them by introducing a ‘eSports Department’ into the school to help them engage better with their education.
“What do you think we look for when selecting students for Ahyeon Polytechnic School? Their grades are all so similar they’re not much use, so often we turn to their attendance record. After looking through so many of these I started to become curious what is was which caused so many of them to give up on studying. There was one thing they usually had in common: their home lives were not very good. Unable to depend on their parents, these kids eventually stopped studying and found something else they could rely on. What do you think the two main things they turn to are? Video games and cigarettes.”
If it wasn’t clear enough already, Bang is the kind of teacher who truly cares about his students, which is why his first thought was to call a meeting with his coworkers to work out what they could do to help these gaming-addicted kids get back into their education. One teacher half-jokingly suggested that they gather all of them together into a single department, “but the more we thought about it the more interesting it seemed, so in the end we ended up really creating an ‘eSports Department’!” Unsurprisingly, they were inundated with applications to join the department, with upwards of a hundred applying for a mere thirty spaces.
Unfortunately, once they’d decided to go forward with this decision, the reality of the situation brought them crashing back down to earth; “Where do we teach them? A normal classroom wouldn’t do. Do we just use a computer room? It’s not as if we could take the children to a PC Ban (internet cafe) every lesson.” Naturally, Bang took the only reasonable course of action – he made his own PC Bang in the school, and the lessons were an instant success.
“I’ve been teaching for 31 years and I’ve never seen kids so completely immersed in a lesson. They never talk to the person next to them, nobody comes in late, they don’t even go to the toilet. Seriously. And when they do, they run right there and back. Hahaha. They’re totally into it. It’s so fascinating to witness kids change like this.”
With the facilities sorted out, they still needed somebody to teach the students, and unfortunately ‘gaming’ isn’t the kind of thing they hand out teaching certificates for. Refusing to let something so trivial get in his way, Bang sent out letter after letter to several schools in Seoul asking if they had anyone suitable to teach for his unique new department, only to be turned down by every last one. In the end, he put the school’s IT teacher in charge and told them to bring another they thought would suit the department . Within just a week of teaching, both teachers came back to him with a 90 degree bow, thanking him for putting them in charge of the class, “all they had to do was draw a tournament bracket on the board, and the day would fly by.” All sunshine and rainbows, right? Wrong. Just a month later those same teachers came back to him – “Sorry, but we can’t do this any longer.” The children were so immersed in their games they were completely silent, and if they were interrupted, they could get aggressive. Within a year, one of them quit outright and Bang had to beg the other not to do the same.
As professional Starcraft teams started booming in popularity, the remaining teacher came to Bang with the idea to have a Starcraft coach teach a lesson, and eventually they managed to find one. Hoping to build upon the success of the lesson, she later approached Bang again with a request for 150 million won (~$130,000). Predictably, Bang’s immediate response was “E… Excuse me? Have you gone insane?”, but she seemed so sure of herself he put his trust in her and they approached the local council and education director for the money. Eventually they managed to convince them it was worthwhile, and thanks to a large budget the district had recently received, they were given the money..
Immediately, they invested the money in eSports coaches and college teachers for the class, to instant effect. “The studentsbegan learning English through terms and vocabulary related to the games and their learning speed increased greatly.” Soon enough three of them students were successfully chosen at a draft for trainee pro-gamers at Yongsan eSports Stadium, “we even had a student (Son “StarDust” Seok Hee) join Samsung KHAN and participate in international competitions. Now he works abroad as a coach. It’s amazing. […] A while ago, if you’d asked the kids what their dreams were, it would simply be “Graduating”, but now they’ve been able to reach beyond that to new dreams.”
Seeing the children grow like this, Bang also took a little introspection into what his own dreams were. “I realised how much I’d always wanted to sing. Two years later, I’ve released several albums of my own. I work at a school, so I sing about school-related things, like the students’ parents, running late for class, or the evils of smoking. The fifth album was about gaming. I’ve even reached 10th place on Mnet!”
“I’ve always though that as long as someone has a little courage, anything is possible.”