Order in the classroomCorporal punishment has now officially been banned in all schools across Seoul. Teachers are not allowed to administer direct physical punishment at elementary, middle and high schools in the capital, nor can they implement indirect disciplinary measures such as forcing students to do push-ups, run or hold their arms above their heads for a prolonged period of time.
The move to nix such punishments at schools has created a new dynamic in a society where smacking students on the palm or calf with a ruler-like object has long been an accepted form of discipline in the classroom. It would be wonderful if schools didn’t need to administer punishment of any kind. But that’s not the case, and we are concerned that chaos could result from the ban of corporal punishments.
When solely taking into account the interests of students, corporal punishment should be prohibited. But for teachers, punishment is sometimes the only way to assert some semblance of authority in today’s classrooms, where students have less respect for people in charge and want to express greater individuality.
For this reason, many locals still have doubts about how the ban will play out over time. When the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education announced in July its plan to outlaw such punishments, it created a stir in schools across the country. Nearly six out of 10 teachers say the ban has made it impossible to discipline students, according to a poll by the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations. Teachers now say they turn a blind eye to classroom disruptions for fear of stirring up confrontation.
We have called for a cautionary approach to the ban until officials come up with alternative ways of disciplining children. The options the city’s education office have suggested so far - including having them talk to a counselor in an “introspection room” - are not realistic.
Most schools have neither the room nor the resources to provide counseling services. Local education leaders should come up with more realistic and effective disciplinary measures. School grounds won’t be safe and secure unless we have alternatives to disciplining students in the classroom. The city should first provide teachers with a manual for offering counseling. Additionally, every school in Seoul should have a least one counselor on hand. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology must also step in quickly to offer guidance. Officials must find an adequate solution before the ban spreads to other cities and provinces across Korea.