Why Korean teachers are speaking out in English on school reality?

Under current labour laws, public school teachers, who are public servants, do not have the right to collective action.

Park Jun-hee

Park Jun-hee

The Korea Herald


Under current labour laws, public school teachers, who are public servants, do not have the right to collective action. PHOTO: 123RF/THE KOREA HERALD

December 28, 2023

SEOUL – Not long after a 23-year-old elementary school teacher’s death in July laid bare the truth of waning respect for educators, a group of 30 elementary and middle school teachers came together to shed light on the realities of teaching in South Korea.

In late August, they formed the group “K-Teachers,” an abbreviation for Korean teachers, to create and upload English-language content on educational issues in Korea on Instagram and YouTube. There, they speak their minds on what needs to change within the school environment.

Under the current labor law, public school teachers — who are public servants — don’t have the right to collective action.

“Our social media posts target foreign news outlets and foreigners so that they can cover the news in their own languages, which we believe could prompt a response from the National Assembly and the Education Ministry since domestic media is unable to garner attention from them,” the group said in a written interview with The Korea Herald.

The organization said it had reached out to foreign correspondents, including CNN — which has 36 editorial offices and more than 1,100 affiliates worldwide through CNN Newsource, and the BBC — news from which reaches more than 400 million people globally every week.

In September, one of the teachers conducted an English interview with the BBC on teachers’ rights, according to the group. In October, CNN published an article on the same topic.

“Our job is to unmask the current educational climate in Korea, the challenges teachers confront, such as parental complaints and dealing with unruly students, and call for measures to guarantee our rights by continuously uploading Instagram posts and speaking with foreign media outlets,” it added.

So far, the group has uploaded posts comparing classroom disciplines in Korea and other countries, as well as translations of Korean news coverage. One post summarizing the Child Abuse Law has garnered over 10,000 views, it said. And as of December, the Instagram account has garnered over 2,000 followers.

Slowly but surely, the group believes their activities have created small changes since.

On Sept. 21, the parliamentary education committee passed a set of revisions aimed at restoring teacher classroom authority at a plenary session.

The four revisions, also referred to as the “teacher rights restoration bills,” aim to beef up criteria holding teachers accountable for child abuse and provide grounds for schools and education offices to protect them against complaints from pushy parents and unruly students.

However, a contentious provision allowing teachers to leave a record of students’ infringement on their rights during education activities was left out during the deliberation process.

The Child Welfare Act that prohibits emotional abuse against a child that could damage their mental health and development also remains unaddressed.

“What we’re trying to do now is to call for the amendment of such measures that allow (teachers) to discipline their students for their wrongdoing. In fact, good discipline is the way to protect students’ rights from their rowdy peers,” the group said.

Having come under pressure from the long-standing issues plaguing the industry, an alarming number of teachers are calling it quits, worsening the already-serious teacher shortage, the association said.

Some 589 teachers with an experience of less than five years left the workforce from March 2022 to April 2023, a nearly twofold increase from 303 in 2021, according to data released by Rep. Kwon Eun-hee of the ruling People Power Party in May. False reports of child abuse claims and complaints made by parents were listed as the top reasons.

A total of 1,133 teachers have been subject to such harassment between 2018 and 2022, according to data released by the Ministry of Education in July. Also, the number of reported cases of students breaching the rights of teachers in classrooms surpassed 2,000 last year.

The country needs to pay more attention and make efforts to normalize public education for the sake of teachers and students, the group said.

“Although the going gets tough, we’re trying to create a learning environment where educators can prioritize teaching students rather than dealing with parents falsely accusing teachers of harming their child,” it said.

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