Seoul struggles to spare the rod on school kids

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Seoul struggles to spare the rod on school kids

With the coming fall semester, teachers will have to leave their hoechori, or punishment sticks, in their desk drawers, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.

But teachers and even some parents are already complaining that sparing the rod may spoil Korean students.

Currently, under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, corporal punishment is allowed up to a certain degree for educational purposes, and most schools have their own regulations for physical punishment.

One high school in Seoul restricts punishments to students who don’t show signs of improvement even after being warned by a teacher, as well as students who don’t pay attention, disturb other students, bully, harass or damage property. At another school, the teachers’ hoechori can’t be longer than 60 centimeters or thicker than 1.5 centimeters in diameter.

According to a guideline released on Monday by the Seoul education office, which goes into effect in the fall, kindergartens, primary and high schools should wipe such rules off their blackboards and abolish corporal punishment to protect students’ basic human rights.

“Many parents worry about corporal punishment being used to an extreme, seriously infringing upon students’ human rights,” said Kim Yong-ho, a school commissioner in charge of student life. “The guideline will ask all schools to refrain from physically punishing students under any circumstance.”

The guideline, however, is not legally binding. According to Kim, “schools that allow corporal punishment will be subject to special investigation and the teachers who continue to physically punish students will receive disciplinary action.”

In other words, the Seoul education office will use other means to take disciplinary action against physical abuse by teachers.

Some teachers argue, however, that a degree of corporal punishment is necessary in schools.

“If teachers are not even allowed to give minimum corporal punishment, such as having students sit on their knees when they do something wrong, it will become extremely difficult for us to create an academic atmosphere,” said a teacher at a high school in Seoul who identified himself only by the surname Kim.

Another high school teacher expressed similar worries that, “if students refuse to follow our instructions and they know we can’t punish them physically, it will be almost impossible to keep them under control at school.”

Parents are also expressing concern.

“Isn’t a certain level of punishment necessary for educational purposes?” asked a parent surnamed Jang.

There’s a debate already underway in the education sector. Ahn Yang-ok, president of the Korea Federation of Teachers’ Associations, criticized the guideline as an arbitrary decision by newly elected Educational Superintendent Kwak No-hyun. “Kwak is trying to change education with laws and regulations, but such regulations and systems should be gradually changed to minimize confusion among teachers and students,” he added.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education is planning to publish manuals explaining how to better instruct students without corporal punishment.


By Kim Min-sang, Park Su-ryon [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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