Seoul's new education chief is about to launch a task force to implement a policy banning all physical punishment of students in schools, but teachers said they may boycott to protest the
measure they claim will weaken their authority.
Kwak No-hyun, elected on June 2 as the head of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, earlier this week instructed schools to completely ban any kind of physical punishment against students starting this fall semester.
The measure came soon after a video clip was uploaded on the Internet showing a 52-year-old elementary schoolteacher beating and kicking a student during class. The video was taken with a cell phone camera by other students.
Kwak said he was establishing a task force to review the current policy on corporal punishment, which bans it in principle except "for teaching
purposes." Given the vagueness of what fits into such purposes, Kwak's predecessors mostly left the decisions up to individual schools.
But when the new policy arrived in schools, teachers and civic groups protested that the ban, while it may protect the students, infringes on
their authority and severely limits their means to control unruly students.
The Korean Federation of Teachers' Association (KFTA), the nation's largest teachers' group, said it may not participate in Kwak's task force,
criticizing that the new policy was drawn up in haste without any consensus gathering or a serious look at alternatives.
"About 94 percent of teachers think their authority is in crisis, and the ban on physical punishment would turn the teachers into educational observers," the KFTA said in a statement, citing a recent survey.
The education ministry has yet to give its official stance on Kwak's move, but indicated the new policy could be in conflict with the autonomy given to principles to determine their own school policies.
Although there is a growing consensus that teachers should not resort to physical punishment in classrooms, some teachers see a complete ban as
premature at this point, when there are no other effective means to handle students.
"Although I believe corporal punishment should ultimately disappear in classrooms, it is still needed to educate students when youngsters misbehave or get on the wrong path," said Kim Joong-jin, 58, a high school teacher in southern city of Daegu. "The issue is how to use it, not to completely prohibit it."