Sunday, January 28, 2007

Corporal Punishment in South Korean Schools


Corporal punishment manifests itself in different ways depending on where it is administered. Students in Japan might be shoved into walls, whereas those in the southern United States might get paddled.

South Korea, which I have often tagged as the land of rapid (and usually positive) change, has been reeling in its own use of this disciplinary technique over the past dozen years.

While the picture painted by the National Human Rights Commission and the National Youth Commission is possibly a bit rosy, it claims that the number of students who were hit by their educators fell to only six percent of the secondary school population.

That is an impressive number when one takes into account the 40% level claimed for the year 2000. In only six years the number of students experiencing corporal punishment at school has fallen nearly 80%!

While teaching at a school in South Korea a few years ago, I saw the threat of corporal punishment in every classroom. Teachers often carried switches which are used in much the same way a ruler was when my parents were in school. The children at the school were all primary school students.

However, there are many forms of punishment still administered that probably don't fall under the traditional corporal heading. I routinely saw groups of four of five students (usually boys) being held after class in the hall. They were made to stand with their feet about a foot and a half from the wall behind them (half of a meter), and with their arms raised above their heads reach back and touch the wall.

Try it once and see how difficult it is. Now try and do it for 10 minutes and you will understand how non-corporal punishment can actually be quite corporal.

Nevertheless, the reduction in the level of reported corporal punishment in South Korean schools is to be commended. At the same time, it is interesting to read about the citizenry's reluctance to fully abolish the practice.

A similar debate is taking place in Japan, although the push by the government seems to be in the opposite direction (Japan officially re-abolished the use of corporal punishment in 1941). Due to the similarities between South Korea and Japan's school systems, it should be interesting to see how the use of corporal punishment plays out in the future.


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