Korean kids say more beatings at hagwon than at public school

Original article in Korean.

45-year old Mrs. Park was shocked last month when she saw the terrible state of her son’s fingers upon coming from his hagwon. Her son said the instructor had beaten his fingers for not doing his lessons. Mrs. Park complained to the owner of the school but the owner told her, “It would do no good to bring harm to the other sudents,” and she did not express her unhappiness with corporal punishment. The hagwon her son attended is well-known in Seoul and can be attended only by top students. Mrs. Park said, “it’s a difficult school to get into, but if my son is being beaten he won’t want to study so I took him out.”

Seventeen-year-old Kim, a girl attending a test prep hagwon in Seoul, said, “There are security cameras in every classroom so we just get sent to the owner’s office for a beating if we do something like chat during a lesson or get distracted.”

After the Seoul Office of Education announced its decision to eliminate corporal punishment, discussion has also focused on the use of corporal punishment in the hagwons of Seoul. Unlike public schools, which practice whole-person education, hagwons use corporal punishment solely to produce higher test scores, so parents tend to tolerate a certain level of it. That makes it all the more difficult to eliminate corporal punishment from hagwons.

Park Bu-hui, head of consultation with the parents’ organization 참교육을 위한 전국학부모회, said, “there are an increasing number of complaints over corporal punishment in hagwons… corporal punishment in hagwons is much more serious since it has no relationship to punishment.” However, “there are parents who don’t believe corporal punishment is escapable if a good environment for schoolworks is to be created…. some hagwons are popular because they are rumored to have very severe corporal punishment.”

At some hagwons all of the parents receive permission slips for corporal punishment. The permission slips say, “in order to create a good school environment, the teachers may use corporal punishment when my child does not follow directions.” Some hagwons put up signs with the maxim “five (beatings) when you skip your homework, ten when you’re late to class”.

Accordingly, education offices in Gwangju and Daegu are pushing reforms to the local ordinances hagwons and private tutoring that would make it possible to suspend the operations and advertising of hagwons that use corporal punishment. The Seoul Office of Education announced in March that, “hagwon instructors who use corporal punishment or otherwise violate students’ rights will be prosecuted.”

But that will be difficult to do. An official with the Seoul Office of Education said, “currently the local offices of education are to prevent hagwons from using corporal punishment, when there is a report they are to investigate, but it’s not easy with 15,000 hagwons in Seoul.”

Dong Hun-chan, policy chief at the (전국교직원노동조합), said, “when a student’s rights are violated by the use of corporal punishment it doesn’t matter whether it came from a school or a hagwon… we need stronger measures to prevent corporal punishment in hagwons.” He added, “when a classroom is created with a single-minded focus on test scores the inevitable result is beatings… we have to solve this problem of standardized testing.”