In recent months, teachers across South Korea have been taking to the streets to demand better protection at work from the bullying and harassment by overbearing parents.
The protests were sparked by the death of a 23-year-old teacher who was found dead in her classroom. The young teacher was in her second year of teaching. She apparently took her own life, having reportedly expressed anxiety after dealing with complaints by parents. A diary found in her apartment described how she felt overwhelmed by parents’ complaints.
Tragically, this teacher’s death is not an isolated incident. South Korea is notorious for its high-pressure education system driven by a hyper-competitive society. The rate of suicide among teachers is alarmingly high; more than double the national average. Data published by The Korea Times shows that 144 teachers have taken their own life in South Korea in the past decade.
Teachers have been holding vigils and demonstrations every weekend since the young teacher’s death, culminating with a rally that saw around 200,000 teachers gather near the National Assembly in Seoul on 2 September. Two days later, on Monday 4 September, more than 120,000 teachers walked off the job despite being threatened with disciplinary action by the government.
In the lead up to the 4 September strike, Secretary General of Educational International David Edwards said, “the teachers of South Korea are not just mourning a tragic loss; they’re demanding real change. Our teachers educate, but also change lives. This is a call for the rights and recognition they rightfully deserve. They embody the value of unity, the power of collective action, and the resilient spirit of educators”.
Collective action brings about change
After nine weeks of demonstrations, vigils and protests, a new law has been passed to protect teachers. The Korean Federation of Teachers’ Unions welcomes the new legislation, the Teacher Rights Restoration Bill. In an interview with the BBC, chairperson Kim Yong-seo said that though there were still areas that needed improving, the new legislation is “a great step forward in protecting teachers and students.”