Arts educator Chansoo Park teaches at Wonju, South Korea. In September 2004, he was appointed to Yangyang Elementary School, South Korea, and after his students put on a 15-minute play in the school arts festival, realised they had a real thirst for culture, so in 2005 he created a theatre club at the school, allowing children to perform regularly and gain social confidence. They also correspondingly improved in their academic achievements, all encouraging Chansoo to include music performances and music project classes in the students’ curriculum.
Students performing musicals proved popular beyond Chansoo’s school district, which led to cultural exchange programs through organisations like UNESCO with India, Thailand, China, the Philippines and France, with Chansoo receiving several awards from the government in recognition of his achievements in art education. In October 2020, he was selected at the Korean Culture and Arts Awards, which selects the best artists in Korea and received the Presidential Citation, the first teacher to receive one of these awards.
Chansoo’s artistic and cultural education offerings are a healing alternative to much of the intense pressure and competition felt by many Korean students, many of whom spend 16 hours or more a day at school in after-class prep schools, with additional pressures from school violence, bullying, stalking and suicidal thoughts (suicide is the leading cause of death for teens in South Korea and the country has the highest suicide rate in the OECD). Student surveys have shown that poor grades and fears of failure are major causes of this stress, while Korea simultaneously has a growing teenage drinking problem.
The government was interested in the impact of music and performance on schools and invited Chansoo to design a project to share this approach, which was then rolled out to elementary, middle and high schools, a total of 230 by 2019. The success of Chansoo’s work with theatrical music clubs, with students learning to cooperate harmoniously and creatively with each other, had such a marked effect on their state of mind, behaviours and academic performance in school, that in 2018 the Ministry of Education of Korea invited him to be Vice Chairman of a steering committee for “The Project for Supporting Musical Clubs to prevent School Violence” and design a program for this. Musical clubs, video production clubs and other arts initiatives have been rolled out to hundreds of schools and thousands of teachers since.
As a result of links Chansoo forged within the region during his campaign to involve stakeholder groups to back musical and theatrical performance in education, he was also invited to take on advisory roles with various civic groups involved in education, press, human rights, arts, history and thought, and connect local organizations with teachers who teach culture and arts education in schools. He is now involved in local development projects such as festivals, art seminars, and urban renewal projects and organizes a teacher study and research group to spread school culture and art education. He has written various papers and books on the benefits of performance art education and is partnering with NGOs to train teachers internationally, as far afield as Chad in Africa, for example.