(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 7)

Collapse of classroom

Deaths of teachers indicate demise of education

One after another, teachers are dying.

Following the suicide of an elementary school teacher in Seoul around 50 days ago, three more have since followed in her footsteps, last week, across the nation.

Tens of thousands of teachers staged a rally wearing black clothing near the National Assembly on Monday. They mourned their colleagues’ deaths and the school system’s demise on the day that public education came to a halt.

A recent survey of teachers makes for hard reading.

It showed that 99 percent of respondents experienced infringements on their authority by overbearing parents and disorderly students. Some 93 percent fear being reported ? or sued ? for child abuse despite meting out legitimate punitive measures. Eighty-seven percent have already thought of quitting in the past year, and 27 percent have received psychiatric treatment.

The Ministry of Education vowed to move swiftly to accept the demands put forward by teachers. And the ministry, primarily responsible for the dismal reality, withdrew its threat of “stern measures” against teachers taking “unlawful collective action.” Anyway, their rally was legal and orderly.

Alarmed by the anger and disappointment of teachers, the government and political parties are enacting and revising four related laws. These call for, among other things, the elimination or weakening of child abuse provisions for justifiable disciplinary measures and obligating school principals to deal with complaints from parents. Bureaucrats and politicians must speed up their jobs and do more by carefully examining other demands made by teachers.

These moves are crucial, but they are just stop-gap measures. The time has long passed for the nation to rethink its education system from the ground up. Education is often called the “task that spans a century.” However, in Korea, frequent educational reforms have been about changing the college entrance system. Elementary and secondary schools are only stations from which students travel toward the ultimate destination of good universities. Prior learning is rampant and private academies prosper.

Students, pressured by their parents’ expectations, become increasingly unruly, hurting one another and their teachers. Pupils don’t respect teachers, thinking they have little to learn from them. However, even these issues are the stories of the more privileged kids of southern Seoul. Those from poorer backgrounds and in poorly performing schools don’t care, with pupils sleeping even during exams. Like marriage and childbirth, study has become an issue only for upper-class families and regions in this country. Korea is what it is now, thanks to education. But its education system is dying.

Sociologists cite fundamental reasons. The unprecedentedly rapid shift from an agrarian Confucian society to a capitalistic industrial power has replaced community spirit with materialistic selfishness. Highly educated, wealthy and powerful parents regard schoolteachers as just employees or beneficiaries of their tax money.

According to rumors, the parent who bullied the Seoul elementary schoolteacher, who went on to take her own life, is a police officer or prosecutor, delaying the investigation. Koreans’ excessive adherence to family, often called “instrumental familism,” also leads to raising children resembling “small emperors,” with little consideration of the cost to others in society.

No social issue is an island. It is connected to all other issues and based on a shared social ill. Gripping Korea now is a cheap and vulgar form of capitalism where the end justifies the means, thereby lacking honest hard work and the subsequent just rewards.

President Yoon Suk Yeol’s recent remarks regarding the protests by teachers revealed his shallow understanding of the educational crisis. Yoon called for restraining students’ rights to bolster those of teachers, showing that he regards the issue as a zero-sum game. He also instructed the relevant authorities to eliminate “killer questions” from the state college exam and clamp down on “education cartels” that produce such types of questions for students.

Private educational institutions, or hagwon, prosper due to the public school system’s failure. This is attributable to society’s excessive materialism. Some parents in Gangnam send their fourth graders to hagwon specializing in medical school entrance tests to give their children the best possible chance of securing stable, high-income jobs.

The incumbent administration’s economic policies are a regression to the neo-liberalistic 1980s, and its perception of human rights goes even further back to the 1960s and 1970s.

Does the government still think this is only an educational issue?

Source: Yonhap News Agency