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Schools buckle under corporal punishment ban

In less than two months since corporal punishment was banned at schools in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, a string of incidents seemingly related to the ban has taken place, sparking controversies over the wisdom of the measure.

On Dec 16, a male high school student assaulted his female teacher while attempting to leave the classroom. The teacher suffered punches and kicks to her head and body, which landed her in hospital.

The incident left many concerned about the state that schools were in after the ban.

“As someone who shares the same occupation, I felt extremely outraged when I heard about the incident,” said Kim Jang-won, a high school teacher in Seoul.

Further causing outrage among netizens, a viral video that surfaced on Dec. 18 showed a middle school classroom of unruly students asking a young female teacher sexually inappropriate questions, including ones about her first sexual encounter.

While agreeing with the overall idea of banning corporal punishment, many professionals argue that the ban may have been hastily implemented and teachers should have been given certain rights, or at least guidelines, before the ban was simply taken away.
A screen capture of a video that surfaced last week shows a student (right) rebelling against his teacher after he was told to be quiet.
A screen capture of a video that surfaced last week shows a student (right) rebelling against his teacher after he was told to be quiet.

“Banning corporal punishment simply to relieve the incitement or protest (of parents) will bring lots of problems,” said Oh Sung-sam professor of education evaluation at Kunkuk University.

“It is well intended, but the problem is that teacher’s authority and other necessary issues should have been secured first,” said Kim, whose complaint was unanimous among other teachers as well.

Kim Ji-hyeon, a middle school teacher in Seoul, is against the ban on corporal punishment. She said that substitute structures have not been put in place since the ban, so the lack of effective sanctions has left things “very chaotic.”

A middle school teacher in Seoul said that although there is no visible change in his classroom, he has noticed more instances of bullying among students.

“For most of the students, teachers have a ‘knowhow’ in focusing their attention, but there are always those few that you have to punish, so it’s hard to deal with them,” said Kim Ji-hyeon.

“The classroom atmosphere changes quite easily with just one or two kids.”

Another middle school teacher in Seoul said that the classroom atmosphere has changed, and that the troublesome students find the new ban as a godsend.

Some experts, however, note that the recent seemingly troubling occurrences in schools are nothing new, and other factors need to be taken into consideration.

“I experienced similar instances when I was first appointed,” said Won Gyu-wang, a high school teacher, adding that the sexual questions are a commonplace for teens.

He said that through experience, teachers learn to divert these situations with ease.

But professionals agree that a ban on corporal punishment is necessary.

“For certain teachers, it doesn’t matter whether or not there is a ban on corporal punishment, but there are teachers who let corporal punishment get out of hand. In those cases I think taking away corporal punishment is a good initiative,” said a middle school teacher.

According to the father of the student who assaulted his teacher, the teacher supposedly ordered her students to hit each other as punishment, which led to the student’s violent fit.

With the media linking the recent incidents to the ban on corporal punishment, experts caution not to make that correlation. They said that many factors come into play.

The biggest factor is the lack of family education, according to experts.

“In my personal opinion this goes beyond the issue of corporal punishment but rather our societal tendency to focus on student rights and parents giving their children everything,” said Oh.

He said that if parents want a ban on corporal punishment, they should look to their own homes first. He said that family education is nonexistent, resulting in children’s lack of responsibility.

“The incidents of violence are not the result of the ban on corporal punishment, but those are a result of misplaced family educational values and the education system,” said Oh.

“Students can be thieves and vandals, but if they take a test and receive high marks, then mothers welcome them with open arms.”

Oh said that sheltered students without authority figures will rebel and react in “unimaginable” ways when facing a teacher’s authority.

According to experts, the education system needs to be based on more than just grades and university admissions.

Teachers also said that a percentage of students lose interest in their studies because they cannot understand the content. These students are usually the ones with difficult backgrounds either financially troubled families or disinterested parents.

By Robert Lee (