The Korea Herald

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S. Korea confirms strengthened policy against school bullying

By Park Jun-hee

Published : April 12, 2023 - 17:42

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This is a still image of Netflix’s “The Glory,” which revolves around the revenge-driven female character who survived horrifying abuse in high school. (Netflix) This is a still image of Netflix’s “The Glory,” which revolves around the revenge-driven female character who survived horrifying abuse in high school. (Netflix)

Students with a history of bullying or school violence will have their records reflected in the regular college admissions process starting in 2024, and the current bullying record retention period of two years will be extended to four years after graduation, the government said Wednesday.

School violence records will be submitted to colleges “voluntarily” in the admissions process for the 2025 school year, but will be reflected on a “mandatory” basis for admissions in 2026. According to the Education Ministry, bullying records would not be included in this year’s college admissions because changes to university criteria and admissions guidelines must be announced two years in advance.

High school dropouts will also be obligated to submit their high school records for college admissions so that universities can review their full academic history. However, bullying records from middle school will not be included in regular college admissions. The ministry declined to provide further explanation on their decision-making process.

The measures, which are largely based on opinions the government collected from experts, parents, students and education authorities since February, were finalized at a meeting of the Violence Countermeasure Committee convened by Prime Minister Han Duck-soo. At the meeting, Han said the government would beef up efforts to eradicate bullying and raise awareness among students. The strengthened policies aim to address, especially to students, that any type of bullying will not be tolerated, he noted.

“A safe and happy environment for our children is the basis of education and is the nation’s greatest responsibility (to ensure those). The recent school violence-based drama drew people’s attention since they are in support of eradicating school violence,” Han said in a statement addressed to the public in a televised briefing.

As part of the strengthened measures, a student’s school bullying record, including instances of forced school transfer due to bullying, will be considered in both the early and regular college admission processes so that any history of bullying will follow perpetrators even after they graduate from high school.

Currently, a student’s grades, attendance, test scores, after-school activities and a teacher’s recommendation letter weigh heavily in university applications. Rule breaches and other school records are reflected only in the early admissions process, although they do not hold the same weight as a student’s transcripts.

The new measures mean that universities will now have to look closely into a student’s disciplinary record during both early and regular admissions in addition to the student’s grades and academic records.

The ministry explained that the decision was made to teach students that perpetrators of bullying have to own up to their choices and accept responsibility for their actions, stressing that students of all ages should be aware that bad behavior leads to real-world consequences.

Bullying records will also be reviewed for admissions that only consider Suneung (College Scholastic Ability Test) scores and self-evaluation tests conducted by the universities, compelling students to take responsibility for their transgressions when the time comes to apply for college.

Further details on how bullying records will be reflected in college admissions will be determined by universities on an individual basis, and will be announced at a later date, the ministry said.

As part of the enhanced measures to tackle school bullying, the government plans to ramp up other measures to deter offenders, including prioritizing and ensuring the safety of victims, focusing on the role of teachers in preventing school violence, and implementing improved violence prevention education programs for educators and students at the source.

The government will also make changes to prevent students from filing administrative lawsuits against their schools, which often result in parents defending their children instead of holding them accountable.

The policy revisions come as Korea faces an uphill battle against school violence. According to data provided by the Education Ministry, the country experienced a stark increase in bullying cases since 2017, when 31,000 cases were reported. A total of 62,000 school bullying cases were reported last year -- doubling in just five years.

The ministry said it would also adhere to calls for stricter penalties to prevent school bullying.

Currently, school bullying is classified on a nine-tier scale, depending on severity. Grade nine is the most serious classification, leading to expulsion. Perpetrators of bullying in middle school, however, can only receive a maximum of grade eight because middle school education is compulsory in Korea.

In the revised plan, perpetrators who try to drop out of school to avoid punishment will not be able to do so until a deliberation committee decides on the case.

A victim will also be able to request separation from perpetrators, barring bullies from coming too close to the victim. Education offices in each municipality will also prevent bullying from happening in and outside classrooms by establishing a support center at schools.

The government will aid schools in preventing school violence from happening through diversified physical education and art classes that could help foster healthy social and emotional development.