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Placing Responsibility Where It LiesRethinking Korea's approach to school violence
Lee Yong-woo  |
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승인 2013.07.13  22:43:29
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THE WORLD is plagued with the problem of school violence. Now even seen as a world-wide phenomenon, school violence is a perpetuating problem, even in Korea. According to Korea’s second clause of “Act on the Prevention of and Countermeasures Against Violence in Schools,” school violence is defined as “the act of injuring, assaulting, imprisoning, threatening, robbing, luring, defaming, insulting, blackmailing, coercing, forcing someone to do something, committing sexual violence, bullying, internet bullying, or causing physical and mental damage to a person.” Although some may see school violence as an act of performing physical violence only, school violence, by law, also includes “psychological violence.” Although the number of reported school violence cases is increasing annually, countermeasures implemented in Korea to eradicate school violence have been questionable in effectiveness.

Addressing the current state of school violence
   Perpetrators of school violence in Korea commonly resort to robbing, humiliating, cyber-bullying and blackmailing the victim students. The most shocking, final results of such acts of school violence are suicide cases of the victim students. Recently, a high school student from *Kyungbuk-gu* committed suicide, only leaving her last will behind. The will named all the bullies, and what they have done to her. They robbed her, hit her, and humiliated her. The sad incident of the victim constantly apologizing to her parents and older sibling for her suicide once again aroused much controversy and emotional response from the public.
   According to the survey “Reality of School Violence in 2010” by Youth Violence Prevention Organization, 30.8% of the victims felt an impulse to commit suicide, 60.8% complained of pain, and 13.9% felt excruciating, deathly pain. Furthermore, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology has reported that, compared to the previous year, the incidence of school violence has increased by 82.5% (6,700 reported cases) in 2012. This means that even though the victims have been suffering so much from school violence and the pains of the victims have long been known, effective measures have not been taken by the government and the schools to counter school bullying. It seems that people do not realize the gravity of this issue that suffocates the adolescents with despair at an age to be filled with aspirations.

Government’s countermeasures
   A 1995 suicide incident of a freshman high school student brought the issue of school violence into the public’s attention for the first time. As school violence rose as a major social issue, the Korean government responded by positioning plain-clothed policemen around school zones, hiring inspectors to sniff out school violence, and designating protected and violence-free areas known as “blue zones” for each district. These countermeasures invited many fierce criticisms in that they were temporary means to deal with the sudden controversy. However, it was an important and meaningful first step through which the Korean society began to recognize school violence as a grave problem, and served as a momentum for Korean government to give more attention to school violence as well.
   Efforts made by Youth Violence Prevention Organization, School Violence Victim Family Council and other anti-school violence organizations eventually led to the proclamation of the first-ever legislative countermeasure to school violence, “Act on the Prevention of and Countermeasures Against Violence in Schools,” in 2004. An autonomous committee called “School Violence Countermeasure Committee” was formed to come up with and implement prevention programs, protect victim students, punish offenders, and counsel them. The passing of this legislation meant that schools were no longer allowed to privately deal with school violence, which enabled covering up actual incidences in order to preserve the school’s reputation. The existence of School Violence Countermeasure Committee helped dealing school violence in a public, systematic manner. However, the legislation had a flaw of having a narrow definition of school violence. By limiting the definition to only assaulting, injuring, and threatening, it failed to protect students from cyber-bullying and even sexual harassment. As a result, as of March 21, 2012, the legislation went through 11 amendments, which included widening the definition of school violence, establishing an emergency counseling call center, and punishing the offenders more harshly.
   In order to carry out this legislation effectively, “Five-year Plan to Prevent and Counter School Violence” was arranged in 2004. The plan comprises of five policy tasks: vitalization and management of anti-school violence committees at a school-wide, municipal, regional, and national level; education to prevent school violence; encouragement of teachers to actively participate in student guidance; protection of the victim and guidance of the offender; and the creation of an anti-school violence environment. Forty-nine detailed items, such as establishment of Youth Patrol and designation of “school violence elimination day,” accompanied the five policy tasks. According to Youth Violence Prevention Organization’s research, the rate of school violence experience decreased after the introduction of the first plan. However, it cannot be concluded that the plan was effective. Because it was the first and only detailed plan that specifically addressed school violence, positive results were somewhat guaranteed, regardless of the effectiveness of the plan.
   With the first plan expiring in 2009, the second “Five-year Plan to Prevent and Counter School Violence” began in 2010, and will expire in 2014. This time, the plan includes 6 policy tasks and 78 detailed items. Some of the agendas are: implementation of school violence counseling centers in 180 local school boards, operation of emergency school violence call center, expansion of CCTV installment, and commencement of “safety notification” service that notices parents when their child enters and exits the school.
   If the first plan set the foundation for combatting school violence, the second plan deals with administering concrete and specific plans into action. Most of these specific plans, however, did not produce positive results. Put simply, the second plan was a failure. With the second plan having been progressed for two years starting from 2010, it was revealed in 2012 that the incidents of school violence increased by an astonishing 82.5%. Furthermore, there were numerous school violence incidents related to suicide between late 2011 and early 2012. According to the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, there were 13,763 victims in the whole of 2011. However, in just the first semester of 2012, there were 12,819 victim students. This rapid increase in the number of number of school violence victims led to the announcement of another set of “comprehensive countermeasures” on Feb. 6, 2012 at a judicial level. Interestingly, that the new set of countermeasures was announced before the second plan was even over, demonstrating how ineffective or problematic the plans really were.

A different approach
   Korea’s conventional approach to school violence is problematic in that it focuses on follow-up management, or counseling during or after the course of incident, which, for the worse, revealed itself to be ineffective. If the current Korean approach does not remedy school violence, contrasting it with another, successful approach could suggest an approach. A success story unfolded in Norway. In 1983, Norway was shocked to learn that a child committed suicide after having suffered from school violence. In response, the anti-school violence program, the Olweus program, was implemented. When the showed successful results, the Norwegian government immediately adopted the program for elementary, middle and high schools.
   Most famously cited as the first researcher of school violence, Dr. Dan Olweus researched school violence for over 20 years, and developed the Olweus program. The program, in essence, is composed of threefold actions. The first is to survey the school in order to understand and analyze how school violence is carried out. After figuring out how school violence occurs, a general meeting of teachers and parents is held to discuss how to resolve the issue. An example of one resolution is to constantly teach students to reject and fight against bullying through various activities and regular class meetings. The second step is to teach the students about the seriousness of school violence and how the victim could be physically and mentally hurt. Meetings and discussions are held regularly to effectively educate students. Finally, if a case of school violence is spotted, the entire class is taught to be involved, and if school violence does not cease, the class suffers the consequences of violence as a whole. The Olweus program puts much emphasis on the education of parents and teachers as well. It is of utmost importance that the people of authority take school violence seriously. The result of this program is spectacular. The rate of decrease in school violence has been reported to range from 30% to 50%. This program also has seen success in other countries, such the United States.
   On the surface, the first and the second “Five-year Plan to Prevent and Counter School Violence” do not seem very different from the Olweus program in that they include educating students on the seriousness of school violence as well.
   However, the Korean approach to fighting school violence lacks several important elements that Olweus program possesses. First of all, the Korean approach is too short-term and temporary. When school violence occurs, the victims and the offenders only receive counseling for a short time. On the contrary, the Olweus program encourages periodic and long-term counseling. Kim Hye-sook (Prof., Dept. of Education) says, “The government needs to change the current one-time-only countermeasure policies to a long-term system that counsels both the victim and offender for at least three years.” While Korean schools only temporarily deal with the involved students with a few counseling sessions, the Olweus program puts emphasis on educating parents and students regularly. Moreover, even without incidents of school violence, the Olweus program recommends regular class meetings, and individual counseling sessions to regularly check for school violence and deter it.
   More importantly, none of the Korean policies involve the bystanders, while Olweus program holds bystanders also as responsible for school violence. Whereas the Korean countermeasures against bullying target only the individuals, the Olweus program sees school violence as a school-wide problem and targets the group. The fact that bullying is a not merely a problem between the victims and offenders is emphasized, and students are taught to intervene or report incidences of school violence. Fr. John Malo (Vice-president, St. Michael’s College School) from Canada put emphasis on the fact that bystanders must be involved for school violence to be stopped. He says, “I believe in educating the entire student population. It is the duty of every student to intervene if they see bullying going on. My experience is that bullies are basically cowards who pick on the ones they perceive as weak for one reason or another. It doesn't take much to make a coward back down. If every student can be taught to take care of everyone, the problem would be three-fourths solved.”

*                 *                 *

   When people read a news article that graphically depicts the evil done to the victim of school violence, many shiver in anger or bow their heads in sympathy. People especially express animosity towards the offenders. However, strangely enough, in the face of violence, it is rare to see these emotional people involved – they only remain as bystanders. The bully may be stronger than the victim, but he will never be stronger than the benevolent crowd. No matter how much people condemn the offenders behind their backs, nothing will change if people do not have the courage to stop offenders; in this case, the crowd is nothing more than hypocritical accomplices to school violence. School violence can be reduced, without a doubt, if students, teachers, and parents realize that it is a school-wide problem, not a personal one. Korea’s fundamental approach to solving violence needs to be changed. Only through long-term education can we truly teach the gravity of violence, and only through the educated public can school violence be stopped. Ultimately, the true and the only solution to preventing school violence is a just crowd.

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