Security cameras not the answer

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Security cameras not the answer

There was an outpouring of public disgruntlement after the National Assembly failed to pass a bill requiring day care centers, preschools and kindergartens across the nation to install surveillance cameras. Supporters demand that the bill be resubmitted to protect children. Opponents argue that teachers also need privacy and that the quality of day care services will improve if their working conditions improve.

The revised Infant and Toddler Care bill proposed many new ways to protect children against the possibility of abuse, but what stopped it from winning legislative approval was the provision requiring compulsory installment of surveillance cameras in day centers. Many legislators believed that having cameras in day care centers wasn’t a fundamental solution because they cannot prevent accidents. They explained their reasons for voting against the bill during the debate ahead of the vote.

As a teacher, I cannot agree more. Over 20,000 cases of violence are reported at elementary, middle, and high schools every year. For every 1,000 students, more than two have been subjected to violence at school. Cases of abuses at day care centers totaled 267 last year. That would put the ratio to 0.2 for every 1,000 children in day care. But few would come up with the idea of installing surveillance cameras in school classrooms as the best solution.

The bill makes day care teachers potentially liable for crimes as their every move is watched and recorded in the classroom. The development pace of infants and toddlers under five varies greatly. The teachers’ rights can be undermined if their activities and behavior are recorded with the lingering possibility that it could be leaked.

Network security cameras also cannot be the answer. Parents may feel secure about checking up on their kids whenever they want through network cameras. But that liberty will inevitably lead to excess meddling in classroom activities if parents are not happy about the care their children receive. Complaints and conflict could be frequent, damaging the overall atmosphere in day care institutions.

Access to the video footage also raises questions. Under the Privacy Protection Law, access to CCTV videos requires government approval. But the revised bill allows parents or custodians of a child to access the film if they suspect abuse had taken place, which could go against higher law or the constitution.

If the general consensus is that CCTV installment is a necessity regardless of the various problems to secure confidence in day cares, the institutions would have to go along with the decision.

At the same time, institutions should continue with their own efforts to improve service standards, leave the doors open at all times for parents to check up on their kids whenever they want to and increase parents’ participation in activities.

But the solution should focus on improving day care services and teachers’ benefits.

The industry believes the solution lies elsewhere. First, work hours for care staff should be set at eight hours per day. They currently work 12 hours a day. It would work for both the parents and teachers if day care centers are run in afternoons, as in the manner of after-school programs for kindergartens.

Salaries should be raised to boost the morale of teachers. The institutions also need more qualified teachers. Because the government sets day care tuition rates at a pitiful level that is far below the average potential day care spending per household, staff work all day for just 1.4 million won a month. Tuition fees at privately run day cares must be liberalized. But since the government has politicized free day care, it has had to cap tuition fees at the affordable subsidy level for the past five years.

The government must decide to upgrade day care services so that there would be no more concern and controversy. As long as tuition fees remain low and staff are overworked, the fundamental problems of day care service cannot be solved, with or without security cameras. Instead of focusing on the physical presence of CCTVs, there should be a more fundamental approach to improve day care service to guarantee the safety of children.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

The author is the chairman of Korea Edu-Care Association (Association of Korean private day care centers.

by Chang Jin-hwan

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