Korean teachers worry new policies will undo inclusive education on sex, gender

Posted on : 2022-12-29 10:29 KST Modified on : 2022-12-31 13:25 KST
The 2022 Revised Curriculum adopted by the National Education Commission has deleted the words “gender equality,” “sexual minorities,” “sexuality” and more
Seniors at a school in Seoul’s Yeongdeungpo District prepare to take a mock CSAT exam on Aug. 31. (pool photo)
Seniors at a school in Seoul’s Yeongdeungpo District prepare to take a mock CSAT exam on Aug. 31. (pool photo)

“I closed my eyes at night. And dreamed a dream where I wasn’t hassled for loving.”

This is the last line of poet Hwang In-chan’s “Forest of Figs.” Z, who teaches Korean Literature at a school in the metropolitan area read this poem with their students to teach them about gender equality and queerness.

To borrow the words of the poet himself, this poem is a metaphorical expression of the reality of sexual minorities, who have to hide their identities. Z does not only teach poems, but uses pop songs and works of literature as class material. Their classes listen to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” read “Master Heo’s Wife,” a modern novel that parodies Yeonam Bak Jiwon’s classic work, “The Story of Master Heo,” by featuring Master Heo’s wife as the main protagonist.

The word LGBT is mentioned in the lyrics of “Born This Way.” “Master Heo’s Wife,” written by Lee Nam-hee, portrays a male-centered patriarchal society.

Z has taught this class for the past 3 years, but they say that they’ve always felt a little anxious.

“Luckily, I haven’t received any complaints from parents, but there are banners in this neighborhood that demonstrate animosity towards an anti-discrimination law,” Z shared. “It makes me wonder how long I can keep on teaching my students this. I’m always worried.”

This anxiety has grown since the National Education Commission recently deliberated and adopted the 2022 Revised Curriculum.

The Ministry of Education’s announcement of the new curriculum that has completely deleted words such as “gender equality,” “sexual minorities,” “reproduction rights,” and the word that forms the basis of these terms, “sexuality” on Thursday, has many Koreans, including educational workers, voicing concern. Many are worried that the revised curriculum will essentially restrict education on gender equality, making it difficult for educators to provide students with the education that they want.

Y, an educator who has been teaching health for over 10 years in South Gyeongsang Province, said in a phone call with the Hankyoreh that “students ask a lot about what homosexuality is, and if we need to recognize it. They also ask about what makes a healthy, loving relationship.”

“Teaching students about sexuality is a must if we are to let students know that everyone has the right to be sexually satisfied while being free from violence, coercion and discrimination,” they said.

Y uses UNESCO’s international sex education guide and sex education materials made by other institutions for their sex education classes. With the help of such materials, Y teaches their students that feelings of sexual attraction and wanting to be in a deep relationship with someone are not limited to people who are heterosexual, but that the same applies for homosexual, bisexual and pansexual people, teaching the students about the diverse spectrum of sexual orientations.

Also, they teach what rights an individual has when it comes to pregnancy, childbirth, contraception, and abortion, and how the state and society should guarantee such reproductive rights.

Educators agree that this education is proving to be effective in schools. 

“There are students who say things like ‘I want homosexuality to disappear,’ but more students believe that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong, and that everyone should be treated with respect,” shared Y.

Z shared, “I watched protein drink advertisements with my students, and we discussed how differently the male and female models are portrayed in the same advertisement. While the emphasis put on male models is put on their strength, when it comes to female models, the spotlight is put on their figures. Through this, students were able to understand that the roles that society expects and pushes on men and women are different, and that these expectations are called ‘gender stereotypes.’”

However, if words such as “sexual minorities” and “sexuality” are omitted from the curriculum, it will inevitably make inclusive classes like these harder to teach.

“The education curriculum is essentially a legal document that teachers are supposed to adhere to in class and use as a standard for their teaching material,” Z explained. “Even if you are met with hate, if ‘gender equality’ is explicitly written in the curriculum, you can say ‘this is written in the curriculum,’ and shield yourself from some of the attacks.”

“If these terms are deleted from the curriculum,” they went on, “it makes it harder for educators to teach classes that they whole-heartedly believe in, since they’ll be robbed of their shield.”

Son Ji-eun, the vice chairperson of the Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, said, “Informing that everyone is equal without making everything a black-and-white issue, normal or abnormal, superior or inferior, is a lesson that must be taught in order to educate citizens.”

She went on to say, “We need that education to prevent various types of sexual abuse and hatred towards sexual minorities, but fundamentally, education on sexuality, gender equality, and sexual minorities is key in order to foster democratic citizens who are inclusive.”

By Oh Se-jin, staff reporter

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

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