Humane education is new bill’s focus

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Humane education is new bill’s focus

In the wake of the Sewol ferry tragedy, politicians across party lines are working on a bill designed to strengthen education curriculums that would teach students the value of compassion and respect for human life.

More than 100 lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties co-sponsored the bill, which is intended to teach students the importance of civic duty, responsibility, cooperation and regard for others.

It also aims to shift the focus in school away from merely making good grades.

The proposal gained momentum over the past month in the aftermath of the Sewol sinking, the country’s worst maritime disaster that has left more than 300 people dead or missing, after many attributed its cause to unethical business practices that disregarded public safety and human life.

The tragedy raised questions over a possible lack of compassion in Korean society and whether too much emphasis was placed on financial gain and profit margins.

It also made many wonder whether the country’s rapid economic growth has come at too a high price - in this case, human life.

The Sewol ferry’s operator has been embroiled in controversy since the accident, after investigators discovered that the ship had been loaded with cargo weighing far over its capacity, a clear violation of safety regulations.

Some of the ferry’s surviving crew members have also been indicted on charges of negligence for abandoning the ship and completely disregarding the safety of the passengers in their care. Four crew members, including 69-year-old Captain Lee Jun-seok, were indicted on a charge of homicide, specifically manslaughter by omission. If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison.

Chung Ui-hwa, one of the co-sponsors of the proposal, said the bipartisan bill will provide a special-purpose curriculum to schools nationwide that have made the most efforts to send their students to prestigious domestic universities.

“The purpose of this bill is to teach children the values of community and ethical standards apart from the existing education model, which has only focused on competition and obtaining good grades,” said the five-term lawmaker, who will take over the position of National Assembly speaker this Friday.

The bill is the result of more than 10 bipartisan forums on humane education held by more than 50 lawmakers over the past year. During those sessions, lawmakers exchanged views on how to strengthen humane education and nurture civic-minded, compassionate students.

Following the bill’s passage, which is expected to be swift, at a plenary session of the National Assembly, 11,000 elementary, middle and high schools nationwide will be required to draw up specific plans for regional education chiefs on how they will implement the new education requirements.

Those institutions will also receive an annual performance evaluation.

“Until now, it has only been said that we need to teach students moral values at schools, but there has been no action,” said Kim Joong-baeck, a sociology professor at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. “With this legislation, it will now be binding for schools to emphasize nurturing good-natured students at last.”

BY YUN SUK-MAN [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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