South Koreans have long taken it for granted that teachers have the right to inflict corporal punishment against unruly or disobedient students. Such punishment has even been dubbed a teachers’ ``stick of love” for students. This has also reflected parents’ aspirations for the proper education of their children.
But now, physical punishment can no longer be tolerated as it is under attack for infringing on student’s basic human rights. On Monday, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education decided to ban any type of physical punishment at schools under its jurisdiction from next semester.
The move came after a primary school teacher was suspended from his job last week for having repeatedly beaten his pupils. The case shocked the nation as major TV channels aired a video clip showing the 52-year-old teacher, identified as Oh, slapping, shoving and kicking sixth graders in a classroom in a Seoul elementary school.
In every respect, Oh went too far in wielding the “stick of love” for his students. Unquestionably, most viewers believe his acts constitute sheer violence against children. His use of corporal punishment cannot be justified under any circumstances. Needless to say, violence is not the thing to be mixed with education.
In this regard, many parents welcome the plan to prohibit physical punishment in all schools and kindergartens. But the total ban is touching off a heated debate with conservative teachers and school officials opposing it. Of course, the municipal education office has made a hasty decision without reflecting different opinions from all walks of life.
Under the leadership of the newly-elected liberal superintendent Kwak No-hyun, the office must have put a stress on the rights of students. It has begun to show a set of policy changes from its previous focus on market-oriented competition in education. Expectations are growing that Kwak will push for reform to normalize school education. In this context, the office should have made more efforts to build public consensus on the ban.
The office must work together with the education ministry, teachers’ unions and associations, and parents’ groups to humbly listen to the pros and cons of the issue. Besides, it should not waste their time and efforts to persuade opponents of the ban to accept its aim to make schools violence-free.
The opponents also have to realize that all education activities should be conducted through legitimate and peaceful means in order to achieve the purpose of education. No doubt corporal punishment has little educational effect on children, especially when teachers abuse the ``stick of love” to vent their anger on their students.
Under the current education law, physical punishment is in principle outlawed. It only allows teachers to use corporal punishment in exceptional circumstances and ``only for educational purposes.” In this sense, no one can deny that teachers have long abused the rules to control students and maintain order in schools. Now, teachers and schools should change themselves to minimize the abuse and maximize educational effects without sacrificing the basic rights of children.