At high school “A” in Seoul on the 1st, a student who was scolded for acting up replied, “there’s no corporal punishment starting today, right? We have cellphones.” The student continued, “you can’t make me kneel down either, so you can’t make me pay attention to the lesson.” A teacher at high school “B”, which has introduced a system of demerits, handed out demerits to a student found using a cellphone during class, and the student started a physical tussle. The student said, “how can you give me demerits if you can’t hit my legs and take away the phone like in the past?” The teacher added, “there’s no corporal punishment anymore somany more students are acting up in class.”
The first day of the corporal punishment ban in Seoul schools was confused. Some teachers said, “the corporal punishment regulations were deleted by the Office of Education but the problem is that alternatives aren’t effective,” and “not every school has prepared alternatives to corporal punishment.”
Students’ opinions of the corporal punishment ban varied. One student at high school “C” said, “I absolutely agree with the ban on corporal punishment for the protection of students’ rights… I won’t have to feel bad anymore because of corporal punishment.” But 18-year old Lim, a female student at high school “D”, said, “there was almost no corporal punishment in the past but now with the ban some students are acting badly… I’m worried that the atmosphere in class will get worse.”
The homepage of the Seoul Office of Education on the 1st received numerous comments from parents and students about the ban, and hundreds of debates played out on internet sites.
According to the Seoul Office of Education, when altering their regulations on student life 81% of students wanted to replace corporal punishment with self-reflection rooms (성찰교실). 80% wanted a demerits system, 30% chose at least two options, 10% left it to the school’s choice, and 8% chose a court.
However, teachers believe the operation of self-reflection rooms to be difficult. A teacher at middle school “E” said, “there is no space to use for a self-reflection room and nobody has been selected to oversee it… I’m worried that sending students to the room will violate their educational rights.” Many pointed out the limits of demerits as an alternative to corporal punishment. One teacher at an elementary school in Gangnam said, “in the past we had a demerits system but it wasn’t effective since students stopped caring about it in high school.”
Seongdong Global Business High School, which was chose by the Seoul Office of Education to implement a self-reflection room, first gives a troublesome student a verbal warning, then has the student stand at the back of the classroom, then sends the student to a self-reflection room. This school was chosen to use a self-reflection room because it already operated a counselling room with a program called “wee class” for students with poor grades or bad life situations. However, just 10% of Seoul schools have such counselors available.
The Seoul Office of Education plans, by the end of December, to place counsellors in schools that are having trouble implementing self-reflection rooms. An official with the Office said, “we will provide information related to self-reflection rooms… we emphasize that the first place for students to be counselled is in the classroom, and letters of apology may be written in the self-reflection rooms.”
At the schools some called this “too late”. One middle school teacher said, “there is no manual that instructs us how to handle every issue… teachers are worried students will cut class.”
The Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations (한국교원단체총연합회) sent a letter that day saying, “public education is not being upheld when there is no way to punish students who interrupt class and infringe on other students’ educational rights.”
According to the KFTA, since October 25th it has collected over 70 incidents related to the corporal punishment ban. It received numerous calls from teachers on the first day of the ban. One fourth-grade homeroom teacher said, “if students use bad language I want to guide them through educational corporal punishment, but my desire to do so is blocked.”
The KFTA said of the Seoul Office of Education’s plans to punish teacher who use corporal punishment that, “we will provide funds for a lawsuit to the Supreme Court for educators punished for using educational corporal punishment.”