The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] Why are helicopter parents tailing school trips?

Tragedies like Sewol, Itaewon play a part in breakdown of public trust, some say

By Choi Jae-hee

Published : Feb. 2, 2023 - 14:38

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Students wearing face masks get off a school bus in Seoul on Jan. 30, 2023. (Yonhap) Students wearing face masks get off a school bus in Seoul on Jan. 30, 2023. (Yonhap)

For many Koreans, their most treasured memories from their student days are often of multiday trips to renowned historic or natural sites around the country.

These include the UNESCO-recognized historic city of Gyeongju; the country’s wartime capital and now second-biggest city Busan; and Jeju Island, the one and only Korean entry to the World’s Seven Wonders of Nature.

However, an online post purportedly written by a teacher about a field trip to Jeju has gone viral, sparking some heated debate about the necessity of such trips.

The anonymous post shared the writer’s firsthand experience as a teacher for a class of students whose “overprotective parents” made excessive demands for the comfort and safety of their children.

According to the post, six parents – mostly moms -- followed their child to every stop in the two-night, three-day itinerary. Some stayed at the same hotel as the students did, while others who couldn’t almost “spent the night at the parking lot.”

The writer said one of the parents demanded that his or her child be sent to the parent’s hotel room because the child doesn’t like getting changed with other students in the room. Another request was about the lunch menu. After learning that the class would be going to a black pork barbeque restaurant, a Jeju delicacy, the parent asked for beef as his or her child does not eat pork.

“They’re driving me crazy," the purported teacher wrote. The writer did not disclose the students’ grade. A multiday school trip to Jeju is far more common for middle or high school students that it is for those in elementary school.

“If they are so worried about their children, why don’t they just home-school them?” one Twitter user responded. “They are ruining their children’s chance to develop a sense of independence,” another tweet reads.

While it is difficult to validate the anonymous online post, there are many teachers who can testify to the phenomenon of overly protective parents tagging along field trips – short or long.

Elementary teacher Park Hye-soo had arranged a one-day field trip to an amusement park in October last year and felt she was “under surveillance” of parents who followed the class through the entire trip.

“Five to six mothers came along. Some called or texted me, asking me not to let their kids into certain crowded spots,” said the 31-year-old teacher in Gangdong-gu, eastern Seoul.

Some teachers said they are times when overly protective parents flout the educational authority of teachers.

When Yang Soo-ji, a kindergarten teacher in Dongtan, Gyeonggi Province, held a baking class last month, one mother showed up in the middle of the event and insisted on taking her son to her car, as if she wanted to stop her kid from eating the cookies from the class.

“I had planned a session where children show the cookies they made and share them with others. I felt like she didn’t respect me as a teacher,” Yang said.

Breakdown in public trust of authorities

Extreme cases aside, some parents said they understand where the overprotection is coming from.

A series of recent public safety disasters -- from the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking to the 2022 Itaewon crowd crush -- have given parents the sense that the safety of their children should never be left solely to teachers, event organizers, police or whoever has authority and responsibility.

“Most of the victims of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster were high school students on a field trip,” pointed out Yang Ji-won, a mother of two sons living in Incheon. “Parents have lost trust that our system will keep their children safe. They are doing the best they can to protect their precious ones,” she said.

The Sewol sinking killed over 300 people, mostly high school students on a field trip to Jeju. The tragedy left lasting scars on Korean society, one of them being risk-benefit analysis of school trips shared among parents.

All multiday trips at Korean schools must be approved by more than 70 percent of parents in order to proceed under the Ministry of Education’s guidelines adopted shortly after the Since the 2014 disaster.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has put a further brake on schools’ outdoor activities. It was only in the second half of last year that class outings resumed in earnest.

Some teachers said public safety issues outweighed the educational benefits of school field trips in the past few years.

“School-related accidents have been on the rise, and problems like COVID-19 cluster infections, which are sometimes inevitable despite teachers’ quarantine efforts, pose threats not only to the health and safety of young students but also to society as a whole,” said Kim Dan-bi, a 33-year-old school nurse in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.

The number of school-related accidents in the first half of 2022 came to 64,000, up 20,000 from a year earlier. The figure marked the highest since 2018 when it posted 57,000 accidents., according to the Education Ministry.

Kim’s school had canceled its plan for a two-day trip to Gyeongju in October last year, as only 30 percent of parents agreed with it. The field trip was replaced with a one-day excursion to Everland, the nation’s largest outdoor amusement park.

Are school trips educational?

Some youth culture experts are skeptical about the “educational benefits” of field trips in the first place.

“School trips offered an opportunity to experience new cultures and enjoy leisure activities for the older generation, who spent their school days at a time when leisure culture was not common in the country. But things are different now. Travel is part of everyday life,” said Lee Gwang-ho, a professor at Kyonggi University who specializes in youth psychology and culture.

“In most school trips, a group of students visit historical sites or museums under the guidance of teachers. In the evening, they usually have talent shows or exercise at youth facilities or other accommodations. Students do the same things together during the whole trip," Lee said, questioning the educational component of such trips.

However, there still appears to be a large number of students, former students and parents who see meaning in class trips and outdoor extracurricular activities. This is particularly the case after enduring years of online classes and indoor-only schooling under the pandemic.

“Students can have unique experiences that they cannot have in the classroom. For example, my 16-year-old daughter recently went on a school trip to Gangneung, Gangwon Province, where she visited a famous media art exhibition and a coffee processing factory. I think being exposed to new environments and people could be an essential part of students' growth,” said Woo, an office worker in her 40s.

“School field trips are not the main culprit of safety accidents. Some accidents are inevitable, while others are caused by a lack of public safety or people’s insensitivity toward safety,” she added.