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Posco effect: Korean kids bid adieu to classrooms in Bhubaneswar

Bhubaneswar, Oct. 18: A common sight in city schools till about two years ago, fresh-faced South Korean children have all but vanished from these institutions.

Their disappearance has more to do with the fluctuating fortunes of Posco’s 12-million tonne steel project in the state than with anything else.

The project has been in a limbo ever since the company inked a deal with the state government in 2005.

“There were about 35 school students from South Korea till 2010. With the Posco project making no headway, the number started dwindling. Now, they have only a notional presence in the schools with most of their parents having either gone back to their country or relocated elsewhere in India where the company has stakes,” said an employee at the Posco-India office here.

The Sai International School, which attracts the maximum number of foreign kids among all institutions in the capital, boasted of 25 South Korean students, all children of Posco employees. But post-2008, they started pulling out one by one, most of them in the middle of an academic session. Now, the school does not have a single student from the East Asian country.

“Posco apparently withdrew its staff members from the state because of the delay in starting work at its proposed steel plant site. The children had no option but to return to their homeland with their parents. We miss them a lot. They were nice kids, disciplined and thorough,” said school chairman Bijoy Kumar Sahoo, adding that many students from the West Asia this year had filled the void created by the exit of the South Koreans.

The Posco employees’ children are now conspicuous by their absence in other schools, too.

Last year, Loyola School lost all its eight South Korean students, who had taken admission since 2006.

“They cited personal reasons for leaving the school. We cannot say exactly if they went back to their country or moved to another Indian city,” said a senior administrative official at Loyola.

On the other hand, KIIT International has managed to retain only one student from the industrial country.

“There were six of them in our school. While two completed their Class X studies here, three others pulled out midway,” a teacher said.

Hyungi Jung, a Class X South Korean student of a city school, takes no time to sum up the possible reasons behind the exit of her compatriots from the state. “It is an open secret that they left because they saw hardly any prospect of the steel plant becoming a reality,” she averred.

Authorities of Delhi Public School (DPS), Kalinga, which bid adieu to a sizeable number of the South Korean students a couple of years ago, said unless there was any real development in the Posco project, schools could not expect fresh admissions of such foreign students in future.

“It is a shame that the state government has failed to convert promised projects into reality. This is having a knock-on effect on other sectors, including education,” said a DPS official.

A senior Posco-India official sought to explain the exodus of the South Korean children from the state in terms of job change by some of the employees and transfer of some others.

“Some have quit while others have relocated to other sites where the company is engaged in projects. So, we are now left with mostly South Korean employees, who either don’t have children or have grown-up ones pursuing higher studies elsewhere,” said the official.