Viral video of student misbehaving rekindles debate on teachers’ authority in Korea

Posted on : 2022-08-31 17:00 KST Modified on : 2022-08-31 17:00 KST
Some argue that the growth of Korea’s private education market is weakening the authority of teachers in the classroom
Videos of students at a school in Hongseong County, South Chungcheong Province, have been making the rounds on social media. (stills from Hankyoreh video)
Videos of students at a school in Hongseong County, South Chungcheong Province, have been making the rounds on social media. (stills from Hankyoreh video)

A video of a middle school student laying down on a teacher’s platform and taking what seem to be photos of his teacher during a class has gone viral on Korean social media.

The video, filmed at a school in South Chungcheong Province, has resulted in heightened public interest in the issue of infringement on teachers’ rights and authority.

Teachers say more attention should be paid to the lack of institutional means to prevent violations of teachers’ authority in the classroom.

Recently, a 20-second video clip of a student tapping on his phone while lying on his back on a teacher’s platform during class at a middle school in Hongseong County, South Chungcheong Province, has been spreading like wildfire on Korean social media.

In a separate video of the same classroom, another student is seen sitting at his desk, taking notes without a shirt on.

Some classmates could be heard asking whether this kind of behavior was acceptable while voices of some cursing were also recorded in the videos.

According to the explanations from the provincial Office of Education and the school, the video of the student lying on the teacher’s platform was filmed on Friday.

The student was reportedly watching TikTok videos while charging his phone at the feet of the teacher, who was writing on the chalkboard. Although it was not shown in the video, the middle-schooler did apparently get down from the teacher’s platform after being instructed to.

An official from the province’s Office of Education also explained that the video of the student without his shirt on was taken on Aug. 19, adding that the student was reportedly cooling off after having played basketball.

The school is scheduled to launch a committee for the protection of teachers’ authority early next month regarding the student who lied down on the teacher’s platform, the one who took his shirt off, and the student who filmed the two incidents.

In addition, to check if the student shown lying down in class had filmed or photographed the teacher with his phone, a police investigation into the matter has been requested after receiving the student’s consent. The teacher herself, however, reportedly does not want any disciplinary action to be taken against the student.

In the wake of the spread of these videos, calls for greater measures to protect the rights and authority of teachers have also been growing.

One of the concerns has been that there are no clear legal standards for what recourse teachers have to respond to acts that undermine their authority in the classroom. What’s worse, teachers can even be reported for child abuse if they take certain kinds of action meant to uphold their authority.

“If a teacher’s rights are violated, the measures that the teacher can take are not legally guaranteed, so if something goes wrong, the teacher themself would be responsible for the situation,” Jang Seung-jin, a high school teacher and member of the policy board of the group World Without Private Education Worries told the Hankyoreh on Tuesday.

As a result, educational authority is “bound to be limited,” Jang says.

Similarly, the South Chungcheong Province branch of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union said in a statement on Monday that “the reality is that we must take into account that if there is a physical or psychological conflict during the disciplinary process, it can be reported as child abuse.”

The Special Act on the Improvement of Teachers’ Status and the Protection of their Educational Activities stipulates that a committee for the protection of teachers’ authority should be established at every school level.

The act also states that school principals should take necessary measures for the recovery and restoration of the authority of teachers who have had their authority violated. Some, however, say this alone is still not enough.

On Aug. 18, lawmaker Lee Tae-kyu of the ruling People Power Party proposed an amendment to the above-mentioned act that would require the protection committees to add the committee’s dispositions to a student’s record.

Some also say that public education has become marginalized amidst an educational environment that relies on the private education market, which has diminished the authority of both schools and teachers.

“With the growth of the private education market, the positions of schools and teachers have also changed a lot,” Jang says. “Schools are no longer a place for comprehensive education, and the role of teachers has morphed into that of helping students pass entrance examinations.”

“Moral authority has waned since what is expected from teachers is not learning or development, but information that is beneficial for tests,” Jang says.

However, there are also wary voices regarding this recent case. Some say that the debate on this subject should not turn into a confrontation that sets students’ rights against those of teachers.

“It is difficult to say that the behavior of students in the video is not a violation of teachers’ authority,” says Jeon Dae-won, a spokesperson for the group Teachers for Practical Education.

“We should be wary about perspectives that pit teachers’ rights and students’ rights against each other,” Jeon emphasized.

Jeon argued that “actions such as not hitting students do not harm teachers’ authority.”

“We should teach that respecting others’ rights goes together with respect for our own rights."

Meanwhile, Jin Sun-hui, head of the South Chungcheong Province branch of the National Parents’ Association for True Education, said it was “questionable” whether the classroom in the videos was an environment where the official school rules were being adhered to.

According to Jin, “Schools also need to guide students regarding what is acceptable and what is not while both students and teachers need to try to keep promises such as school life regulations.”

By Kim Min-je, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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