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A School No Longer Safe: School Violence in South Korea
"I'm scared to go to school. He's smart and everyone likes him. I am not popular and don't do well in school, so who would listen to me? I've been getting nightmares everyday. I would rather die than go to school. I wanted to jump off a bridge, but I couldn't do it at the thought of my parents," said K, a seventh grader.
K's classmates had been bullying him, taking his properties and verbally abusing him. As time passed, bullying only became worse. For months, K couldn't tell anyone about his situation. His depression became serious, his grades dropped, and he started to avoid other people. Eventually, K began to reject going to school, violently rebelling against his mom when she scolded him.
The level of bullying in schools in South Korea has become unbelievably severe. According to 2012 National School Violence Survey conducted by the Foundation for Preventing Youth Violence, or FPYV, about 12.0% of 5540 students surveyed answered that they have been bullied, 12.6% stated that they have bullied, and 40.8% of the students claimed that school violence was extremely severe.
Another survey of 4.5 million students conducted by the Korean Ministry of Education reported that about 63.6% of bullying occurred during school hours, 50.0% of which occurred in the classrooms, during break. The reason behind school violence was not too profound: about 40.0% of the assailants surveyed responded that they bullied with no reason at all or just for fun.
Though the rate of incidence of bullying decreased in 2012 compared to that of 2011's (18.3%), school violence is still a serious problem. According to the Korean Ministry of Education, 71.6% of students surveyed that had been bullied (about 55 thousand people) claimed that the experience was hard to bear. Furthermore, according to FPYV, the percentage of students who stated that the emotional pain due to bullying was beyond tolerable level increased from 33.5% to 49.3% between 2011 and 2012. These statistics show that though the amount of school violence decreased, the level of pain encountered by the victim has become much more severe.
The deeper emotional wounds of the victims can lead to students dropping out of school, having difficulty adapting to school life or even attempting suicide. According to FPYV, 39.3% of students who have been bullied were found to resist going to school. Consequently, the students would have more difficulty adapting to their school environment and enjoying a normal school life.
Severe bullying can also lead to even more extreme consequences. According to CNN, "South Korea's suicide rate among youth increased by 57% in 2011, compared to 2001" and "bullying is one of the causes known to contribute to South Korea's extremely high youth suicide rate." With the increase in number of students who'd experienced serious pain from bullying, the number of students who had considered suicide due to school violence has also increased. In 2011, 31.4% replied to have attempted or have considered suicide after being bullied. In 2012, the rate rocketed to about 44.7%.
The severity of school violence has increased as changes occurred in the trend of bullying. One change that has occurred is the increasing variety of types of abuse assailants inflict upon victims. In the past, most bullying took the form of physical abuse and out-casting. Recently, many more types of abuse have emerged, posing emotional pain in addition to physical pain upon the victims. According to the Korean Ministry of Education, the incidence of verbal abuse was the highest (35.3%), followed by out-casting (16.5%), physical assault (11.5%), and cyber bullying. Furthermore, the amount of cyber bullying has been increasing steadily, from 7.3% in 2012 to 9.7% in 2013.
Another change was the age students started bullying each other. According to the KNPA (Korean Neuropsychiatric Association), the age at which students first experienced school bullying has become younger. The FPYV reported that school violence was most prevalent among 7th and 8th graders. Furthermore, total of 78.3% of students with experience of bullying first encountered school violence during elementary. Such trend is dangerous because earlier first encounter of bullying means the victims are exposed to school violence for a longer period of time. This causes the aftereffects of bullying to last longer and poses greater difficulty for students to adapt to school life.
In response to the increasing severity of school bullying, the Korean Ministry of Education has proposed several policies to reduce existing bullying and prevent future school violence. One policy was to increase the power of school and administration. In the past, punishments enforced upon the assailants were very light, such as apologizing to the victims, school service and talking to the counselor. In fact, according to FPYV, 27.6% of the assailants surveyed claimed that they received no punishment. According to KNPA, the new policy gave the school the right to enforce stricter punishments, such as immediate suspension or expulsion. Furthermore, if the assailant was not expelled, the policy made it the school's responsibility to separate the he or she from the victim by assigning them to different classes.
Another solution was to strengthen the safety facilities and report system to the police. The proposal advocated schools to increase the number of CCTVs implemented around the campus, and allocated more school police. Lastly, the Ministry of Education proposed a policy to aid the victims. A variety of programs designed to help victims recover, such as family healing camps and counseling sessions, were implemented.
Unfortunately, the policies have not produced satisfactory results. One reason was that despite the systems implemented to punish assailants and aid victims, many students still chose not to notify adults. According to FPYV, about 33.8% of the victims were researched to not have sought help from adults. Korean Ministry of Education reported that this was because the students feared the revenge of the bullies or they doubted that the school or police would be able to help them effectively.
Furthermore, many students were not even aware of the new proposals. According to the 2012 National School Violence Survey Results, about 34.9% of the students surveyed stated that they were completely not aware of the policies enforced by the Ministry of Education.
Students were not only unaware of the policies, but those who were found the aid provided by school to be insufficient or ineffective. According to KNPA, about 41.8% of students who sought for help claimed that their situation didn't get any better after notifying their parents or teachers.
To prevent school violence in a more effective manner, the schools should take the following measures:
1. Schools should increase teacher student ratios. According to the KNPA, most assailants were found to be lacking attention and love from their parents. By reducing the number of students per class and hiring more teachers, teachers would be able to take care of each individual. Also, they would be able to pay extra attention to those with troubled family relationships, providing the love the students are unable to receive at home. This would prevent the students from developing a rebellious attitude that is often associated with lack of attention.
2. Schools should assign teachers to monitor break times. As mentioned earlier, 50.0% of bullying was found to have occurred in the classrooms, during break. With teachers checking the classrooms for any signs of abuse among students, more incidents of bullying would be caught and assailants would be punished accordingly.
3. Education about morality and increased awareness that bullying is not an appropriate behavior should be emphasized since early age. Daejeon Today reported that about 72.4% of parents of elementary, middle and high school students surveyed felt that the levels of moral education at schools were too low, which was 17.3% greater than the rate in 2013. Accordingly, students' moral education was chosen as the subject most needed to be taught more deeply. This shows how schools are doing a poor job in giving the students a solid understanding of proper conduct. As statistics show, Korean students are starting to bully each other at an earlier age compared to the past. Furthermore, many abuse other students for no particular reason. This shows that the students have no solid awareness that what they are doing is inappropriate, and go on bullying others for the fun of it. According to 2013 2nd Semester School Violence Survey Results and Analysis conducted by the Korean Ministry of Education, 43.2% of the assailants stopped what they were doing because they realized what they were doing was bad. On the other hand, only 27.0% stopped because the school took action. This statistics confirms that learning that bullying is wrong is more effective in preventing school violence. Thus, by gaining understanding about morality and becoming aware that school violence is bad since an early age, students would not engage in bullying anymore.
4. Schools should employ younger counselors, such as students who are currently attending or have just graduated from university. It would be most sensible to employ those who majored in psychology or counseling and plan on becoming counselors in the future anyway. Many students who were bullied didn't notify adults because they doubted that the adults would be able to help them. Students would feel counselors of similar ages as more approachable; younger counselors wouldn't feel like real "adults," decreasing the hesitation students feels when approaching teachers. Also, not having been long since they themselves have graduated from middle-high schools, the younger counselors would understand the students more easily. Thus, they would be able to give the students better tips and comfort.
With each second, the wounds of victims, both physical and emotional, are getting deeper. The tragic reality of school bullying must be changed - fast.