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  • Bridging a Cultural Gap

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    Philip Cleveland

    State Education Department Offers Online Korean Class

    April 2015

    By David Zaslawsky
    Photography by Robert Fouts

    If you need another example of the education community working hand-in-hand with the business community consider this:

    The Alabama Department of Education in conjunction with the non-profit A-KEEP (Alabama–Korean Educational Exchange Partnership) is developing a Korean language and culture course for students statewide in grades 9-12. The ramifications are far-reaching. With all the Korean companies operating in the River Region and other areas in the state, an online course about the Korean culture will bridge a definite gap. That gap was significant enough that the business community – primarily the automotive sector – requested such a course, said Philip Cleveland, director of the Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education/Workforce Development. This is the latest in a series of examples with all entities – government, business community and education – being on the same page for developing today’s and tomorrow’s workforce.

    The Department of Education’s goal “is to be industry-driven; to make sure that we are providing our students with tangible skill sets that will help them be successful in the world of work,” Cleveland said. “We really want to see that happen.”

    The Korean language/culture class will be taught via the department’s online platform – Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators & Students Statewide (ACCESS). The course is being developed and is expected to be offered in the fall. A student would sign up for the course and it would be worth one credit. Cleveland hopes 50 students will take the course.

    The Department of Education is also working with Troy University and Auburn University at Montgomery as well as A-KEEP, which has contacts with Soongsil University in Seoul that could provide instructors.

    “The goal of the course is that (participants) have conversational ability, and as importantly, the culture side of the course, where (students) are learning the things that help them interact and be receptive,” Cleveland said.

    The course is more focused on cultural differences. “It’s helping to create an opportunity to remove obstacles say between a line person and a supervisor that may have different cultural backgrounds,” he said. “Sometimes not looking someone in the eye does not mean disrespect. It’s a different culture.”

    It would make for a seamless transition from a high school student to working at a Korean business and that’s the goal. “We feel like this course will impact employee retention; we feel like it will help our industry partners maintain a higher level of efficiency when it comes to productivity,” Cleveland said. “We all know that if an employee feels that they are appreciated and they have a good relationship with their supervisor – productivity is going to go up. We think we can help our industry partners create that opportunity through this course.”

    Increased productivity and efficiency for businesses and industries translate into increased funding for education, “which allows us to do more with our students,” Cleveland said.

    This class is just the beginning. The goal, according to Cleveland, is a second class. The broader goal is to have similar courses offered to current employees at Korean-owned companies through the state’s community college system or perhaps a university. “That’s also been requested by industry,” Cleveland said.

    There could be some classes taught face-to-face instead of online. “There’s nothing that says that can’t occur.”

    Cleveland expects the Montgomery Public Schools district to embrace the state’s Korean language/culture course “because of the number of students who transition from MPS to the automotive industry to work,” Cleveland said

    A-KEEP will work with companies to pay for instructors, Cleveland said.