School teachers have taken to the streets in South Korea for the past six weeks. Male and female teachers feel powerless in the face of harassment by parents of their pupils.
Tens of thousands of teachers have been protesting for the past six weeks in South Korea. The spark for the demonstrations was a suicide of a 23-year-old teacher in July this year. The young woman had worked at the school for just over a year before harassment by parents of her students became unbearable. Colleagues found her body in a school locker.
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The young teacher's cousin found diaries in which the joy of starting out in her dream job gradually gave way to helplessness at being bombarded with complaints by overbearing parents. Hence the violent and indiscriminate reaction of other teachers to the death of a young woman. They also have to deal with calls all hours of the day and weekends made by often unfairly complaining parents, the BBC reports.
Students and teachers in South Korea are under enormous pressure
South Korea is a place where competition for social and financial success is intense and very closely linked to academic success. From an early age, students compete fiercely for the best grades in order to get into the best universities one day.
A very large number of families in South Korea currently have only one child, so the pressure for them to succeed is all the greater. Its emanation is the so-called "hagwons" – highly expensive extra-curriculum schools that operate from 5am to 10pm where parents send their children to study.
Subjected to so much pressure to achieve success, children do not have the tools to react to the stress associated with it. This often finds an outlet in aggression and bullying. Teachers have very little opportunity to intervene, due to the child welfare law passed in 2014.
The protesting teachers claim that parents are arrogantly and selfishly abusing the provisions of this law. They accuse teachers of child abuse, for example, for stopping an aggressive student from hurting others. Verbal admonishments are in turn often referred to as emotional abuse. Such accusations can result in the immediate removal of the teacher from his or her job.
Teachers are constantly being harassed
During the protest, bbc.com reporters heard that one teacher received a complaint after refusing a parent's request to wake her child with a telephone call each morning. Another teacher was reported for emotional abuse after taking reward stickers off a boy who cut a classmate with scissors.
Reporters also saw messages from a parents’ group chat shared by a woman who wished to remain anonymous. Parents encouraged each other there to harass the teacher over a decision she had made. "If your number gets blocked, then use your family and friends' phones to call," instructed one parent in the chat.
According to the 2023 survey, less than a quarter of teachers in South Korea (24%) were satisfied with their jobs. This is a dramatic drop from 68% in 2006, when the survey began. The vast majority of those surveyed said they had thought about leaving the profession within the past year, the BBC reports.
Under protesters’ pressure, the government admitted that relationships in schools are dysfunctional. It has issued new guidelines for teachers to remove disruptive students from the classroom and restrain them if necessary. Parents are to agree meeting dates and times with teachers in advance, and teachers can refuse contact after work.
Many people believe that not only the education system in South Korea needs reforming, but also the narrow definition of "success" in society. School grades should not be the main factor in deciding whether lives of young Koreans are successful or not.