Confronting school violence

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Confronting school violence

President Lee Myung-bak reportedly plans to seek a solution to school violence in a meeting with representatives of teachers and parents associations shortly after the Lunar New Year. We welcome Lee’s decision, as it represents the government’s effort to solve the problem with the strong determination to put an end to the unremitting violence in elementary, middle and high schools across the country.

There is no difference between right and left on the issue of school violence. The long-standing conflict between the two rival groups over the issue of students’ rights is also dwarfed by the unrelenting violence in our schools. Jang Suk-woong, chairman of the liberal Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union and one of the guests invited to the Blue House meeting, has said that he “deeply regrets not having done much to ensure the safety of our students.”

Various countermeasures against the rise in school violence are cropping up, particularly after the shocking suicide of a middle school student in Daegu, who killed himself because of the unfathomable abuse he suffered at the hands of a group of bullies. The government says it will come up with a comprehensive solution by the end of this month, following earlier proposals such as an emergency call system (dial 117) and documenting the perpetrators’ penalties on their school records.

The education authorities must recognize that it is ultimately in the hands of the teachers, who can keep a close watch on their students. Therefore, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology must provide teachers with a mandate to control students’ erratic behavior - allowing them to summon the students’ parents, if necessary - while at the same time holding teachers accountable for the end results.

The education authorities can also provide those in charge of discipline with substantial incentives for promotion as a way of tackling violence in the schools. They must also sort out and punish teachers, deputy principals or principals who try to understate the seriousness of the violence in their schools in order to head off negative publicity about it.

Above all, the authorities need to isolate the most violent students and send them to a separate school that can deal with them. If schools force the students to transfer to other ones without realistic alternatives, it’s just like a time bomb. This daunting challenge demands a concerted effort among all parties involved. It will take a village to clear this obstacle and pave the way for a better future for our children.

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