Mothers’ School

Country Profile: Korea, Republic Of


49,779,000 (2011)

Official Language


Poverty (Population living on less than US$ 1.25 per day)


Total expenditure on education as % of GNP

15.8 (2008)

Total youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years, 2002)

Female: 99.8%
Male: 99.8%
Total: 99.8%

Adult literacy rate (15 years and over, 2005 – 2010)

Female: 96.6%
Male: 99.2%
Total: 97.9%

Statistical sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleMothers’ School
Implementing OrganizationPurun Citizen Community
Language of InstructionKorean
Programme PartnersNational Basic Adult Literacy Education Association (of Korea)
Date of Inception1994

Background and Context

Although it may be a small statistical difference between the adult literacy rate of women and men, many women in Korea were denied opportunities for education for socioeconomic reasons and patriarchal ideology. These women remain illiterate and face difficulties in their everyday lives.

Illiteracy in Korean women is found most frequently for those who are over 50 years of age for these women are of the generation that experienced the Korean War in 1950s and the economic hardships of the 1960s and 1970s in Republic of Korea. During those decades, it was often the women who were asked to sacrifice their education for financial reasons or due to prejudice that women did not need to be educated.

In order to support these women, Purun Citizen Community provides literacy education through ‘Mothers’ School’. The name Mothers’ School does not indicate that the programme is limited to women who are mothers. Rather, the term ‘mother’ is used as a form of respect for adult women in their mid-40s, regardless of whether the woman has a child or not. Therefore, the Mothers’ School programme is open to all women willing to participate.

In 1999, many organizations working in adult literacy education formed the “National Basic Adult Literacy Education Association” in Korea. About 30 literacy education institutes, including Purun Citizen Community, work in partnership with one another for adult literacy education development and the promotion of adult literacy education in the Korean society.

The association works to promote awareness on the issue of adult literacy education. The association lobbied for governmental funding from the Korean government, which led to the start of the governmental funding in 2006. These efforts also led to the status of the adult literacy education provided by these organizations to be recognized as equivalent to elementary and secondary education. The partner organizations also share knowledge of different types of literacy education, teacher training, learner counsellor training, grassroots citizenship education programme and various management consulting techniques within the association.

While many adult education institutes exist in the Republic of Korea, this case study looks specifically at Mothers’ School, which provides valuable educational support for women who have missed out on a formal education.

Aims and Objectives

The main objective of the programme is to offer women, who were not included in the formal education system in Korea, an education that would help these women become literate in Korean. The education programme is designed to help these individuals be able to function independently in society as a member of the community.

Specific Objectives of Purun Citizen Community in Literacy Education

  1. Purun Citizen Community aims to educate individuals so that they can share the knowledge rather than to compete with one another and increase knowledge only for themselves.
  2. Increasing self-esteem for a new chapter in the participants’ lives should be included in the education programme for the participants were often frustrated at their illiteracy and embarrassed by it.
  3. Through Purun Citizen Community’s education programme, participants should learn to understand others outside of their families, become more aware of the society and participate in social affairs as a member of the community.
  4. Purun Citizen Community seeks to lead individuals to become leaders in their communities, regardless of their socioeconomic class.

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

Literacy Programme

The duration of the programme is two semesters per year. Each semester is for six months. The first semester is from March to August; the second is from September to February. The teacher/ instructors participate by the semester schedule. While new participants are allowed to join at any time of the semester, the ‘formal recruitment’ of new participants takes place prior to the beginning of each semester. The beginner level class is open in both the fall and spring semesters.

There are three levels of classes- beginner, intermediate and advanced- with each level lasting for a year. The classes take place two or three times a week. The classes can take place either in the morning (10:30am – 12pm), in the afternoon (3pm – 4:30pm) or in the evening (8pm – 9pm).

In the beginner level class, participants learn the basic Korean letters (called Hangul). The participants learn the rules of phonics and how each letter contributes to the formation of a word. The learners also practice basic sentences, equivalent of those of 1st or 2nd graders in elementary school.

In the intermediate level class, participants practice more advanced sentences, equivalent to those of 3rd or 4th graders in elementary school. The participants also practice different types of writing.

In the advanced level class, participants learn to compose an essay on their own at the level equivalent to that of 5th and 6th graders in elementary school. These participants are taught to advance their reading and writing skills they learned from the intermediate level class.

After a participant completes the advanced level class, she can participate in ‘composition class,’ where the focus is on writing. The participant can write her autobiography and other types of writing in this class.

The participant can also take basic mathematics class after she advances to the intermediate class level. In this class, participants learn how to distinguish numbers, basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Learning materials

Learning materials

The classes use textbooks from elementary schools and other organization-produced materials. Each month, participants at the school and the teachers volunteer once or twice at social welfare organizations for orphans or children with disabilities. Like the regular school in Korea, learners participate in field trips once each semester. They also have opportunities to visit artistic or cultural venues around the city. The participants participate in writing competitions on Hangul day (a national holiday to celebrate the creation of the Korean language), which is organized by the National Organization for Adult Literacy Education in Korea.

In addition, the participants hold a theatrical performance once a year (either in August or in September). The celebrations for completing the course are held at the end of the semester.

Handwritten invitation by learners

Handwritten invitation by learners


Poetry writing classes are offered to participants of different levels- beginner, intermediate and advanced. They write poems based on their life experiences. Through this activity, they learn to express themselves in a more artistic fashion. Writing one’s own poems allows a learner to really see the result of their education in the programme while increasing their self-confidence in the process.

A big part of the poetry programme is creating one’s artwork with her poem. In the beginner level, learners read the poems of poets they like. The poem of their choice is then copied while the learners draw a picture appropriate to the poem. In the intermediate and advanced class, the learners create their own poems and include the poem on their artwork. The poetry programme collects learners’ work and print a book of learner poetry each year.

Artwork Exhibition

Artwork Exhibition

Every October, there is an exhibition of these poetic works along with a poetry reading event. The goal of this event is to allow the participants to achieve a sense of accomplishment and to be able to enjoy the process of poem. Also, by holding this event, the surrounding community can become more aware of the adult literacy education in the area. The participants of the programme are encouraged to participate along with the migrant women and the children of the surrounding community so that the participants can become exposed to different types of poems written by different age groups and culture in their community.

Poetry exhibition

Poetry exhibition

Theatrical Performance

There is a learner-led theatre group named Bombom within Mothers’ School. This programme is intended for learners in the intermediate and advanced levels. This activity was organised as a way to increase the participants’ self-esteem by offering them an opportunity to express themselves through acting.

Many plays Bombom performs are about stories that are similar to the life experiences of the participants. These plays are about women who experienced the Korean War in 1950s, their financial struggles after the war which led them to workplaces rather than schools, their marriage, children, family and other aspects that many Korean women of that generation may share. The participants write the lines of the plays together through a workshop. The plot of these plays is based on the experiences of the women participants of the programme. The plays are an opportunity for the women to bring their stories to the surface, in this case on a stage, thus giving them a voice.

About 12-15 learners participate in this theatre group. In 2005, Soomin Lee, who studied play directing at the Korean National University of Art at the time, was the director of Bombom. Lee commented that “We were not turning the impossible into possible, but rather discovering what was possible (with the theater group).” One participant mentioned, “I saw the confidence in all these women. I also got rid of the prejudice that only professional actors could perform that could move the hearts of the audience.”



For participants of the advanced level, they are offered a chance to participate in autobiography writing class. This programme is intended to promote self-confidence in the participants.

As new literates of the Korean language, the participants are able to write their own stories, including the painful past as illiterate women. This activity is used as an alternative form of therapy for the participants- the writers can face their past as illiterates. Expressing themselves in written forms, the participants learn to look forward to their future as literate women.

Participants in this autobiography activity reported an increased sense of achievement and self-confidence. In 2011, the participants’ autobiographies were printed.

Printed autobiography collection

Printed autobiography collection

Programme Development in the Last Six Years

In addition to the activities described above, Mother’s School provides various means to support learners in their literacy education. The additional support has developed significantly in the past six years.

In order to meet individual’s needs, Mothers’ School provides counselling for learners. In 2006, learners received individual counselling prior to each semester and, in cases where there was some concern or complaint, they received additional counselling. As of 2012, each learner now has a designated counsellor and receives counselling not only at the beginning of the semester but also during semester. In addition, they have counselling sessions with either the principal or vice principal of Mother’s School.

The amount of extracurricular activities has also increased. In 2006, only the activities of a play performance, field trips and a writing contest on Hangul Day were available to learners. In 2012, however, learners may now also participate in other activities such as movie days, liberal arts lectures, poetry and artwork exhibitions, poetry presentations, laughter therapy, photography exhibitions, and community sharing festivals.

In 2006, to demonstrate their achievements, the learners took part in a dictation, submitted their work to internal and external writing competitions, and contributed their work to literary journals. In 2012, in addition, they also contribute to poetry books, created individual writing portfolios, and participated in play performances.

Programme Impact and Challenges


Past Phases

In 1994, Purun Citizen Community built the Community Culture Center in Heo-gi Dong in the northeastern part of Seoul. The Korean classes for mothers and women who missed the opportunity to attend school were offered here. About 8,000 learners took classes in basic Korean, mathematics and English. In 2004, the school held its first theatrical performance ‘Pencil Sharpener,’ a play about the time in Korea’s past where learners could not have access to education.

Current Phase

Currently there are six Korean classes, two English classes and two computer classes during the day in addition to three Korean classes in the evenings. About 70 learners are participating in the programme. There are 12 Korean teachers, 2 math teachers, 2 English teachers, 2 computer teachers and 1 Korean composition teacher.

Challenges and Lessons Learnt

Integrating ‘Non-Traditional’ Ways of Learning in Classrooms

As illiterates, the learners were marginalized from the Korean society in many ways. Often, it was noticeable that many learners had lost self-esteem or self-respect due to their illiteracy. This sense of loss sometimes translated into being overly aggressive or offensive in classrooms which led to interpersonal conflicts among the learners. In one case, a learner gave up participating in the programme due to such conflict.

As a way to ease tension among learners and to have the learners understand that the school was not just for one person but for all participants, a theatrical group Bombom and other participant-led volunteer groups were created. By participating in theatrical performances, the learners were able to express themselves and about their lives as illiterate individuals in the Korean society. The themes of the performances evolved around family, marriage and children so that the learners were more familiar with the themes. By sharing their experiences and their lives, the women were able to recover parts of the lost self-esteem and self-respect.

Participating in Extracurricular Activities

Initially, the learners regarded the extracurricular activities as unnecessary to their learning for their opinion of literacy only resulted from classroom instruction and academic exercises within the classroom. This belief led to refusal to participate in diverse methods of instruction and civic education activities outside of the classroom.

However, Purun Citizen Community kept its original educational philosophy which was to expose the programme participants to experience as many different educational methods as possible. Through the volunteer activities and theatre group participation, learners were able to express themselves better and also share their new knowledge with others. By helping others who are disadvantaged in the society, the participants came to understand that sharing their knowledge could also be a joy for them. Also, the learners seemed to increase their trust in the education offered by Purun Citizen Community after their participation in these activities.

Publicity of the Programme

Publicity is difficult for it costs lots of money. There are more illiterate women that the programme seeks to reach, yet fail to reach due to the cost of publicity. So when the participants of the programme learned of such hardships faced by the organization as well as the fact that there are many others who still need to be reached, some participants willingly volunteered to join the teachers when they went to public spaces around the community to advertise the programme. Some participants bring other women to the programme who may fit the ideal profile to join the programme. However, this is only possible for women who have gained a bit more self-esteem after participating in the programme for they are not embarrassed anymore to be associated with a programme targeting illiterate women.

Financial Matters and Human Resources

The two most difficult aspects of programme management are finances and human resources management. Although Purun Citizen Community did not experience a great hardship where it had to stop the programme, it often struggles to maintain the governmental funding which does not consider the unique psychological and socioeconomic factors of the programme participants.

Some policies are meant only for short-term literacy projects while Purun Citizen Community’s programme seeks to run long-term programmes that are tailored specifically to adult women whose experiences are unique in the Korean history. The differences in these perceptions sometimes lead to decrease in governmental funding or support.


Mothers’ School by Purun Citizen Community has three full time staff members—a manager, a vice-principal in charge of administration and the principal managing all school-related affairs—who manage affairs related to the school on a daily basis. The instructors for the programme are mostly volunteers. Some of the instructors are paid on a part time basis. The volunteer instructors report being personally enriched by the participation in the programme. However, for a more in-depth curriculum development, there is a need for full time instructors which is impossible under the current structure.


Contact Information

Ms. Hawjin Suh/ Ms. Hyung-Nam An
Vice Principal/ Programme Coordinator
Address: #302, 202, 346-41 Immun 1 Dong, Dongdaemun gu, Seoul
Phone: 82 2 964 7530
Email: epurun (at)