Is South Korea’s Obsession With Education Making Teachers Scared Of Their Pupils?
Tens of thousands of South Korean teachers have been demonstrating in the past few months, calling for more protection from students and parents.
At one protest in Seoul last month, 200,000 gathered, according to organisers, compelling the government to take notice and action.
Critics say it shouldn’t be surprising that parents put teachers under so much pressure since South Korean society places a disproportionate level of importance on academic success.
South Korea Passes New Law To Protect Teaching Community
Education Minister Lee Ju-ho initially warned teachers that a mass strike would be an illegal act. That position was reversed and a set of revisions passed the National Assembly in September.
One of the key changes is shielding teachers to some extent from being sued for child abuse if their discipline is considered a legitimate educational activity.
The new law will also protect the teaching staff’s personal information and require parents to contact the school with concerns rather than the teacher itself.
Penalties For Parents Who Make Unfounded Accusations
Ahn Ji-hye, an elementary school teacher who helped organise previous protests, welcomes the legal changes but insists higher-level laws also need to be revised.
“It is still possible to report teachers based on suspicion alone according to these laws.” She says the demonstrations will continue, for now at least.
Ahn says she would like to see penalties for parents who make unfounded accusations or practical measures put in place such as removing a disruptive student elsewhere.
Rise In Teacher Suicides Highlights Need For Reform
The unified stand by South Korean teachers comes after the suicide of a first-grade teacher in July. She was found dead in her classroom in the capital.
While police have not given a definitive reason for her suicide, they have mentioned a problematic student and parental pressure while discussing her case.
Government data shows 100 public school teachers killed themselves from January 2018 to June 2023, 11 of them in the first six months of this year.
Teachers Receiving Treatment For Psychological Issues
The country’s teaching staff point to a 2014 child abuse law, intended to protect children, as one of the significant reasons they feel unable to discipline students.
Teachers say they are scared of being sued by a handful of parents for causing emotional distress to their child and being dragged through the courts.
A survey by the Federation of Teachers’ Labour Union in April found 26.5% of teachers polled raised concerns over receiving counselling or treatment for psychological issues due to their job.