Discipline as important as rightsA revised version of a proposed students’ rights ordinance was finally passed in Seoul this week to serve as the first-ever piece of legislation aimed at protecting students’ rights in the history of the nation. But the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology wants it to be reviewed again. It sets out to grant students greater freedom of expression on school premises, but there are also fears that it could water down teachers’ authority, educational standards and the sense of order in the classroom.
The jurisdiction of the ordinance extends beyond the reach of similar acts passed in Gyeonggi and Gwangju by giving students the right to stage rallies both on and off campus. It also removes restrictions on the carrying of cell phones, lets students adopt whatever hairstyles they see fit and outlaws the use of physical force to subdue or control unruly kids. This final clause is especially concerning as students could abuse it to challenge teachers and ignore disciplinary measures.
The Seoul Metropolitan Council, which is controlled by the liberal opposition, has been criticized for rubber-stamping the bill without giving serious and realistic consideration to how it will affect the education system and undermine teachers’ authority.
The ordinance is expected to go into effect in March at the start of the new school term, but private and public schools in the capital are agonizing over whether to adhere to it - unless it is killed or revised before the new term begins. If it is enforced, schools may find their teachers shunning direct, one-on-one contact with their students to avoid any potential conflict, which threatens to jeopardize the quality of education students receive.
Schools run on discipline, and it is crucial that this is maintained so students can be properly trained to fit into the social order and not disrupt the social fabric. It also makes it imperative that schools convene committee meetings to decide how to change their regulations before the March deadline.
The ordinance gives schools some freedom in terms of how to apply it - notably in areas such as hairstyles, clothing, belongings and the right to organize demonstrations - but it also stresses that students’ basic rights should not be restricted. This means institutes of learning must work with students and parents to define a proper set of rules balancing school order with the protection of students’ rights. And if the rules are broken, educators must respond with disciplinary action in the students’ best interest.