Ferry disaster highlights lack of safety education

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Ferry disaster highlights lack of safety education

Ms. Park, the 45-year-old mother of an elementary school student, said her child has three hours of physical education classes a week at school in Seocho-dong in southern Seoul.

But what they do in class, she said, is merely “read or write.”

In the wake of the Sewol ferry disaster, which has left more than 300 passengers - many of whom were 11th-grade high school students on a class trip - dead or missing, the lack of safety education at local schools has surfaced as one of the primary reasons why so many young lives were lost.

School health laws stipulate that students in elementary, middle and high schools must be taught safety rules in class, but several surveys and interviews collected by the JoongAng Ilbo prove that this reality is far from accurate.

In most cases, teachers with less of a workload usually provide safety classes merely by “reading out instructions, like when one reads a manual,” said a principal from a high school in Seoul.

Data from the annual parliamentary audit last year showed that only 36.4 percent of all elementary, middle and high schools abided by school health laws mandating that students be taught how to prepare or defend themselves in the case of a natural disaster, an attempted abduction or other potential dangers. Hours allotted for this should total 44 per year.

In a survey conducted last year by the government of 21,540 teachers nationwide, only 12.9 percent stated that their schools adhered to those compulsory hours.

“I once advised the principal to add health classes to the school curriculum,” a nurse at a high school in North Gyeongsang said. “But his reply was that it was more important for students to work toward a decent college education.”

The 12th graders in that school mostly spent those mandatory hours studying independently last year.

The Ministry of Education contends that safety education is taught in physical education classes. But for many parents, including Ms. Park, the idea is unheard of.

“I’ve never heard [from my child] that the school has provided safety education,” she said.

Despite the fact that the Education Ministry announced a “new” set of plans on Thursday concerning safety education in schools, amid rising public awareness following the Sewol tragedy, concerned parties argue that those policies lack initiative.

“The Education Ministry always repeats itself like a parrot after a crisis occurs, saying how it’s going to reinforce safety education measures and increase the amount of content offered to students,” said Kim Ji-hak from the Health Education Forum. “But it’s all empty talk that ignores reality. Schools aren’t even following the compulsory hours.”

BY KIM KI-HWAN, CHEON IN-SUNG [selee@joongang.co.kr]

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