Well, our occasionally schoolmarmish PM, Ms Julia Gillard, is dead-keen on citing the contentious My School website as one of her proudest policy achievements, even though when she introduced it, teachers unions didn’t exactly share her enthusiasm for the scheme. In South Korea, their education unions have been up in arms of late over a planned government policy change that has starkly different from My School. Amos Roberts found that many Koreans believe that the old adage that “sparing the rod spoils the child”. A warning - Amos’s report contains scenes that could upset some of you.
REPORTER: Amos Roberts
A tae-kwan-do studio is hardly where you'd expect to start a story on corporal punishment. But in a scandal that shocked South Koreans this year, classroom discipline invoked the martial arts.
OH JANG PUNG, TEACHER (Translation): So you lied, you bastard! That’s why this has happened. Your lies! You bastard, you say one thing and do another? Lies!
When this primary school teacher assaulted a pupil in July…..he was secretly filmed by another pupil on a mobile phone. Students had nicknamed the teacher, whose last name is Oh, ‘Oh Jang Pung’, after a powerful blow used in martial arts movies.
OH JANG PUNG (Translation): How can you just lie to your teacher? You lie in your report every day.
There was a public outcry after the video went viral online.
NEWSREADER (Translation): A video has been released of a Seoul primary school teacher slapping and kicking a student. It can’t be seen as ‘”the whip of love’” or corporal punishment for educational purposes.
The teacher has partly admitted to using corporal punishment but said parents misunderstood teaching principles.
A group of parents from the school filed a complaint with the police, and the teacher was suspended.
This is the primary school where it all happened. No-one here wanted to be filmed, but the vice-principal told me the video has been misinterpreted.
VICE PRINCIPAL (Translation): It’s not like what the media has report. The media always portray this person as being violent and say the students call him Oh Jang Pung. In a legal sense, he didn’t harm the kid. He didn’t physically harm the kid - nothing like that. Children have many problems. They’re hard to control, even at home. Even their parents can’t educate them as they used to and yet they plan to fire this man. There’s something wrong there.
Oh Jang Pung isn't the first teacher caught taking corporal punishment to extremes.
TEACHER (Translation): Get down.
STUDENT (Translation): Don’t do it this way.
TEACHER (Translation): I said get down.
STUDENT (Translation): I won’t do it again.
TEACHER (Translation): Get down. Do you want to die here? Get down, I said.
TEACHER (Translation): Please forgive me.
Over the past few years, a series of violent incidents involving teachers has come to light, fuelling controversy in local media.
NEWSREADER (Translation): A primary school teacher who severely beat a pupil for failing to answer a maths question has been reported to police.
TEACHER (Translation): Are you the principal? You bitch! Are you the principal?
FEMALE NEWSREADER (Translation): A video showing a primary school teacher inflicting corporal punishment on a child has aroused outrage on the internet.
Corporal punishment isn't supposed to be used in South Korean schools unless it's for ‘educational purposes’. In July, the Seoul district education superintendent announced he wanted to close this loophole.
EDUCATION SUPERINTENDENT (Translation): Banning corporal punishment has long been controversial but after the so-called Oh Jang Pung incident I’ve decided we can’t delay this decision any longer.
Two districts declared a complete ban on corporal punishment, and the government has announced its plans to do the same. There was an immediate backlash from teachers.
KIM YEONG-HWA, TEACHER AND AUTHOR (Translation): Corporal punishment is an essential part of education. To say that you can teach a student without it is wrong.
Kim Yeong-Hwa taught primary school for 37 years, and is the author of a book called, ‘Inside 6th Grade Classrooms Today’. She says many 13-year-olds are now out of control, and blames their bad behaviour on a growing reluctance to use corporal punishment.
KIM YEONG-HWA (Translation): 30 years ago, we didn’t talk about allowing it. It was just accepted. In Koreachildren are traditionally raised very strictly. Spare the rod, spoil the child, we say.
KIM DONG-SEOK, KOREAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS ASSOCIATION (Translation): The survey by KBS, our biggest public broadcaster, says that 73% of parents think corporal punishment for educational purposes is needed.
Kim Dong-seok is from the Korean Federation of Teachers' Associations, the country's largest teachers' union.
KIM DONG-SEOK (Translation): Assault, non-educational corporal punishment and educational corporal punishment have to be clearly differentiated. Oh Jang-Pung’s action was clearly a criminal assault.
Finding a school that would let me film ‘educational’ corporal punishment proved difficult - it's a sensitive issue here.
JONGWOOK HONG, TEACHER AND TRANSLATOR: Hello, everyone, good evening.
But, as it turns out, my translator for this story is also a teacher.
JONGWOOK HONG: Who's missing?
Jongwook Hong runs an after-school study centre, or ‘hagwon’, and invited me to film him disciplining his students.
JONGWOOK HONG (Translation): Hey, stand up. Go to the back. You didn't finish your homework. Hands behind your head, squat down and up. Look at one another. Don’t look at me. Ready? 40 times. Go!
Getting students to do physical exercises is a common form of punishment.
JONGWOOK HONG: Go back to your seat.
But Jongwook's never had any qualms about whacking his pupils when he thought it necessary. However, the parents of these pupils say their children never complain for long.
MOTHER (Translation): “The pain is killing me! My bum!” That’s what he tells me, and then the conversation is over. The kid feels the pain at the time, but after one or two months he sees his English mark improve and then he told me, “It’s because I was caned.”
One mother's more worried about bruises than pain.
MOTHER 2 (Translation): The problem is if the children get hit on the legs - that’s a very visible part of the body, especially in summer when they wear shorts. Your skin is exposed in summer. So when others see that, they’ll think “What happened?” It will look bad,
JONGWOOK HONG: Will you do your homework?
STUDENT: Yes, I will.
JONGWOOK HONG: Good, have a seat.
MOTHER (Translation): If there’s no corporal punishment there will be other problems. The crucial thing is, not hitting the children is neglect. There’s no punishment worse than neglecting them.
But growing numbers of teachers and parents believe that hitting children is wrong. Among them is Principal Lee Beom-Hee, who greets his students individually as they arrive for school each morning.
PRINCIPAL LEE BEOM – HEE (Translation): Ba-Ho, today you look the neatest.
Nobody woke you this morning?
STUDENT (Translation): The alarm didn’t go off.
PRINCIPAL LEE BEOM – HEE (Translation): Why are you later and later? Why are your eyes so red? Let me see.
A former ethics teacher, Lee was handpicked to open Heungdeok High School just six months ago.
PRINCIPAL LEE BEOM – HEE (Translation): I asked two things of the teachers when I first came to this school. I asked that they never use corporal punishment and that they never speak to the students with hatred.
Banning corporal punishment is just one of many reforms Principal Lee has introduced. He believes strict schooling might have worked in the past, when South Korea was struggling to develop, but students can no longer be forced to do things against their will.
PRINCIPAL LEE BEOM – HEE (Translation): Society is changing rapidly and so are our children, so traditional methods of education, like giving orders and beatings, are no longer appropriate in educating our children.
To an outsider, it seems students take advantage of this laissez-faire approach.
They don't appear concerned when the principal finds them smoking in the bathroom…
PRINCIPAL LEE BEOM – HEE (Translation): Get down from there right now, you never co-operate.
..and some pupils spend their classes catching up on comic books and sleep.
TEACHER (Translation): You had a rough time yesterday?
Could you please wake up and try to listen?
Seong-gu... Let’s look at the book with Sang-woo. English class is too hard, eh?
Here it’s the same. Had a lot of stress yesterday, eh?
Study with your partner.
In many ways, the debate over corporal punishment in South Korea is a struggle over the future of education. Conservatives warn of a breakdown in discipline and declining academic standards if liberals get their way.
KIM YEONG-HWA (Translation): These days many people say, “Ban corporal punishment”. The students act boldly. They’re not scared anymore. Students aren’t in awe of their teachers. They defy them. They’re ruder and ruder.
Even teachers who support a ban on corporal punishment are worried about the lack of established alternatives. Detention doesn't work when most students are rushing off to see tutors after school. And some parents are accused of out-sourcing their child's discipline to their teachers.
KIM YEONG-HWA (Translation): When we ask the parents to come to school they say they’re too busy. Yet if a teacher raises a stick to their child, they’re on the phone right away. “You were told not to use corporal punishment. Students have human rights. How can you deny them?”
And what do the students themselves think of this debate? Well, many admit marks might improve with more discipline, but no-one here is clamouring for the cane.
STUDENT (Translation): We might do better with corporal punishment. But being hit, being forced to do things… I don’t want that. Without corporal punishment we can solve problems by talking. It might take time because it needs to come from the heart but it would be better, I think.
GEORGE NEGUS: The other side of the story. Amos Roberts filming and reporting from South Korea. And tell us your reaction and read more about the debate on corporal punishment on our website:
JASON JONGWOOK HONG
HYE IN NA
Original Music composed by
21st November 2010