Students’ rights bring groups into the streets

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Students’ rights bring groups into the streets

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Seoul education council member Choi Hong-yi speaks in a forum supporting the “student rights act” on the third floor of the Franciscan Education Center in Seoul, yesterday. [YONHAP]


The newest battle over education in Korea is over the disputed “student rights act,” which would ban corporal punishment, restrictions on what students wear and the length of their hair, and allow students to participate in after-school political activities, including street rallies.

The debate is hot, and has pulled in civic groups, liberal and conservative, with each side holding press conferences and street rallies to promote their views on the issue.

A group of 33 liberal education-related groups, including civic organizations and the Seoul unit of the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union, launched yesterday a joint campaign to urge local education offices to adopt a so-called student rights act.

Seoul’s new education superintendent, Kwak No-hyun, is one of the most vocal supporters of the bill. Kwak, who took office earlier this month, described on July 1 the major policies he wants to push forward during his tenure, including a first draft of the students rights act by the end of this year. Kwak wants it to take effect during the latter half of next year.

According to the plan laid out by Kwak on July 1, any form of corporal punishment or disrespectful language by teachers will be forbidden, while all restrictions on students’ hair length, or the kind of clothes, shoes and socks they wear will be ended.

Many local middle and high schools still require students to stick to certain short hairstyles - girls as well as boys - to maintain “the right atmosphere for study.” Corporal punishment is still common in classrooms, where a teacher typically has to teach more than 30 or 40 students. Many schools require uniforms, which would be abolished. Other schools have lesser dress code restrictions, such as not allowing high heels or requiring students to wear socks all year round, and those would be ended.

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Civil rights activists decry the act at a press conference hosted by conservative civic groups, yesterday. [YONHAP]

The act also urges schools to lighten restrictions on students’ use of cell phones. Some local schools confiscate cell phones when students are caught using them during class or in self-study sessions.

“The student rights act is a blueprint to restore communication and trust among teachers, students and parents, beyond the current system in which there is little encouragement and communication and students are made to fear teachers instead of admiring them,” the groups said in a statement released at the opening of the campaign in downtown Seoul yesterday.

On the same day, seven conservative civic and education groups, including the Citizens United for a Better Society, held a press conference in front of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education calling for education administrators to drop the plan.

“You should not mislead the students into believing that even a minimum level of rules and discipline are unnecessary restrictions,” Choi Kang-shik, head of the Citizens United for Better Society, said in a press conference. “The act will instigate the students and will fan tension between students and teachers.”


By Park Yoo-mee [hawon@joongang.co.kr]

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