Who’s to blame for bullies: Teachers or parents?
An emotional national argument has erupted over bullying in Korean schools. The big point of contention is who is responsible for kids gone wild: schoolteachers or parents?
Research shows they both are doing a poor job of inculcating social values in young Koreans.
The debate began after a 13-year-old middle schooler in Daegu committed suicide Dec. 20 because two of his friends had brutally bullied him for months. The student left behind a poignant four-page suicide note that his grieving mother made public. Among other things, the note said the boy didn’t feel he could talk to anyone about his plight either in his home or at school.
That seems to be a common thread in the discussion. Teachers aren’t trained, or aren’t interested, in getting involved with their students except academically. And parents, eager to see good grades on report cards or to dispatch the kids to hagwon (private institutes), aren’t talking to them about much else either.
Analysts argue that Korean parents and schools aren’t interested in helping build character in the young anymore.
Among OECD member countries, Korean students usually rank above fourth place in terms of scholastic achievement. But according to research done by the International Education Association on eighth graders in 36 countries in 2009, Korean students ranked last in terms of their “social interaction capability.”
Teachers say they don’t know how to deal with school violence, partly because they were never trained to educate students on building character.
A middle school teacher in Daegu said his principal explicitly told him that character-building or social skills weren’t issues in the classroom because “school and teacher assessments don’t include such criteria.”
A grade school teacher surnamed Kim, 48, in Gyeonggi said there is bullying in his sixth grade class.
“There are two boys who dominate the classroom and they once bullied a disabled student by pouring water on his face and wiping it with a dirty mop,” said Kim. But, Kim explained, instead of being punished, the two bullies were given a gift certificate in return for causing no more trouble.
Analysts say Korean students receive education in getting along in kindergarten, but after that the focus is entirely on serious academics.
“Kindergarten curriculums include personality education, such as the teaching of manners and morals,” said Chang Young-eun, a professor in the family welfare department at Chung-Ang University. “From elementary school, however, such topics are not included in the curriculum and the focus is on academic achievement.”
Meanwhile, a lack of communication between parents and children is also seen as a root cause of school violence.
Korean kids used to learn their morals and manners from elders at the family dining room table.
In the 1990s, according to statistics from the Economic Planning Board, the average Korean family shared meals at least four times a week. But according to a survey of 311 workers conducted by Incruit, an online job search engine, the frequency of shared meals has decreased to about twice a week.
Nobel and Gaemi, an educational textbook publisher, surveyed 205 elementary, middle and high school students in May 2010. According to the results, 56 percent of respondents said they “talk to their parents less than 30 minutes a day.”
“Parents believe all they have to do for their children is feed them and send them to school and hagwon,” said Lee Ki-young, head of the Green Education Association. “The absence of character education at home contributes to the intensifying violence in schools.”
By Yim Seung-hye, Kim Sung-tak [firstname.lastname@example.org]