A blind spot for school bullying

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A blind spot for school bullying

“The camera is on. You’re being watched. Do not dare to do anything foolish,” reads a warning below a CCTV camera at a middle school near Gyeongsan Station in North Gyeongsang province.

The message appears to be clear enough, but it obviously had little effect. It is located at the school attended by a 15-year-old boy who jumped to his death after suffering from bullying and harassment over two years.

The school is a small one that takes less than five minutes to walk around. There are about 10 closed-circuit cameras inside and outside on school grounds. Despite some reports saying the cameras were installed in awkward locations, they appear to be in the right places - at least to my eyes.

“But these cameras are not enough,” said one school official. To keep close watch in every corner, at least 50 cameras would necessary. An additional 50 would be needed to cover all classrooms, corridors and restrooms in the school. The existing set of eyes is hardly enough to combat the violence that goes on surreptitiously at school.

In fact, the cameras suddenly became an accomplice in the death of the teenager who wrote in his suicide note that he was regularly beaten up where there were no cameras or cameras of low quality.

The media has made a big deal about the worthlessness of the CCTV systems that have proved entirely ineffective at combating school violence. School and education authorities also laid blame on the cameras.

The country has been installing more and more cameras at schools nationwide since a middle school student committed suicide in Daegu in 2011 after suffering from excessive bullying and other abuse at school.

There are now over 100,000 CCTV cameras in schools across the nation. But in order for the system to be entirely effective at each school, that number would have to rise to 100 at each school, or roughly one million in total according to some estimates.

“Sociable, outgoing, and spirited,” reads the school profile of one of the suspected bullies who harassed the victim in Gyeongsan. A school administrator said that the school and teachers had no idea about the violence because the accused students were considered decent children who did not have any such problems in the past.

The school had a debate on school violence last year. On paper, the school is violence-free. But one day of police investigation discovered otherwise.

All the details in the boy’s suicide note turned out to be true. Police are now investigating other violence cases after discovering new leads. Investigators identified several groups of bullies that often gang up on other students.

In the past, the education minister visited the school while appearing on television as it was chosen as a good example of a violence-free environment. The victim would have been watching silently while harboring complaints of hypocrisy and injustice.

The adults are clearly missing the point. What the boy was trying to say is not simply that the CCTV system is inadequate but rather that there is a critical lack of attention to the problem on the part of the school and teachers. The problem lies not with the cameras but with the adults at school. The monitoring system is not the main concern - society is.

Just as our eyes have blind spots - parts of the optic disc without cells to detect light - the human mind can be blind as well. When working in a repetitive pattern, humans often fail to perceive important details. We miss some of the important things when we work quickly out of habit.

It will not be simple to fix the problems. People need to closely examine their own weaknesses and also communicate with others. We must open our ears and listen in order to discover our own inner blind spots.

To reduce the blind spots related to school violence, education authorities must apply the same method.

If the role of schools and teachers remains one-dimensional and mechanical when interacting with students and parents, installing thousands more CCTV cameras won’t be of any use in reining in the violence.

Schools and teachers must take closer notice of their students and what goes on both inside and outside of classrooms. They must ask more questions and listen more. Extra cameras should come after conversation and reflection.

A friend of the boy who killed himself remembered that he always sat in the front row of his classroom to look up at the teacher even though he was pretty big.

There is a high school near the middle school. Students stormed out of the building in the evening. A group approached, and one student tapped on a peer’s shoulder. There was also one who was walking alone with his head down.

They were all passing under the banner that says, “Make our school violence-free” - and CCTV cameras.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Kyu-youn

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