In a country where education is highly valued, private tutoring is almost essential for Korean students to get admitted into a top-ranking university. For those who cannot afford the luxury of private tutoring, “Join Us to Maximize our Potential” (JUMP), an organization that provides free tutoring to kids from low-income families, may serve as an alternative.
JUMP was established in 2011 with the simple goal of providing equal educational opportunities for all regardless of their socioeconomic background, explained founder and CEO Yi Euy-hun.
“I wanted to give these children a fair starting line,” Yi said.
JUMP has modest beginnings. In its second year, it worked with just 15 community centers in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province. But since then, JUMP has seen remarkable progress. By the end of 2016, 613 college students have tutored 2,385 children at 106 community centers across Seoul, Gyeonggi Province, and Daegu.
It is also expanding overseas to China and Japan. A former volunteer had come up with the idea and led the facilitation of the project, now called “JUMP UP.”
While there are a number of programs in Korea that offer tutoring to children of disadvantaged backgrounds, JUMP is quite unique for two main reasons.
First, JUMP works with a wide range of parties including regional governments, universities, and one of the country’s leading corporations, Hyundai Motor. With their financial support, JUMP is able to provide quality services. In return, each party is able to fulfill its own needs ― the local government may spend its related budget wisely and save facilitative costs, universities can effectively support their students through conditional scholarships, and businesses can promote and advance their images.
“It’s a product of a collaborative effort among various parties. We use existing resources, link them together, and thereby save costs for each party involved,” Yi said.
However, Yi thinks the greater change was brought by and to the college student volunteers. “I see more positive changes in our student volunteers ― perhaps even more so than the children receiving tutoring.”
JUMP not only links young students to college volunteers but also college students to adult sponsors who act as their personal mentors. The adult sponsors, who work in a wide variety of fields including public service, academia, businesses, and arts, help college students search and build their own careers through one-on-one meetings and group workshops.
“I also wanted to give college volunteers a chance to be inspired and find their own careers,” Yi said.
During the interview, his staff was preparing for a workshop designed to help college volunteers seeking vocational counseling. Some of the volunteers who had come for the workshop offered to speak about their experiences.
“I’ve volunteered in many similar programs,” said Yu Ga-eul, 22, a sophomore at a university in Seoul who attended almost all the mentoring workshops. “This program is different though because not only did I give, but I also received a lot of help.”
Chun Soo-hyun, 25, said it was his second year volunteering at JUMP. He initially applied to this program because of the mentoring service. But a different reason led him to stay for a second year.
“I had volunteered in other tutoring programs as well, but I became very skeptical of these programs. They only intended on raising grades and I felt kids were forced to study without knowing why,” he said.
“But at JUMP, I’m given a lot more freedom. So I try to expose my students to a lot of different things. One of my students went to professional college to become a professional barista.”
Yi emphasized that helping all participants to build close, sustainable relationships is a crucial part of his work. And because college students also benefit from the program, they are also induced to become sponsors after graduating. Two former college volunteers, for example, now work as full-time employees at JUMP. Many more have become sponsors and mentors.
“Change comes little by little,” Yi said when asked about the progress and limitations of JUMP. “What I learned through JUMP is that it is possible to give kids equal educational opportunities.”