South Korea teacher’s suicide under parents’ pressure sparks nationwide protests

Approximately 50,000 South Korean educators gathered in Seoul on Monday to voice their demands for enhanced protection of their rights and to shed light on the challenges they face. This rally was prompted by the tragic suicide of a young teacher, allegedly driven by harassment from a student’s parents.

Public school teachers have seen a significant increase in complaints related to mistreatment by both parents and students, including allegations of child abuse when disciplining pupils. Some of the protest banners carried messages like “To inquire is to mourn,” emphasizing the toll this issue has taken.

A participating teacher, who wished to remain anonymous and went by the name Lee, expressed frustration with the inadequacy of legal measures and passive government responses in safeguarding teachers from these problems. She highlighted the additional burden of heavy workloads and excessive complaints from students and parents, which she had experienced during her 15-year teaching career.

Disturbingly, over the six years leading up to June, approximately 100 public school teachers in South Korea took their own lives. Government data revealed that 57 of these teachers were from elementary schools.

In response to the teachers’ concerns, President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered officials to address their demands and protect their rights. In protest, many teachers vowed to take leave on Monday, prompting government and school board officials to take steps to prevent major disruptions to classes and implement legal measures to improve protection.

Apart from the Seoul protest, an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 teachers held rallies elsewhere in the country. Authorities warned that collective actions to disrupt classes would be considered illegal and could result in disciplinary actions.

Notably, the South Korean teachers’ union was not involved in Monday’s demonstrations; instead, the protests were led by a group called Everyone Together As One, which pledged to safeguard teachers and initiate changes to prevent further tragic incidents.

This crisis was further underscored by a recent incident in which an elementary school teacher was found dead at school, allegedly due to anxiety caused by a parent’s complaint related to a student dispute. Mourners, including Jung Chai-jin and students like Ku Bo-na, paid their respects at the teacher’s memorial, expressing their sadness over the loss.

Teachers have been holding nationwide vigils and demonstrations each weekend since the teacher’s death, culminating in a rally near the National Assembly in Seoul that drew as many as 200,000 teachers.

South Korea faces a significant challenge with the highest rate of suicide among developed countries, according to data from the World Health Organization and OECD, with more than 20 people per 100,000 of the population taking their own lives.

The education ministry has pledged to prevent teachers from being punished for legitimate educational activities and to improve communication between teachers and parents. They have set up a task force to strengthen legal measures and protect teachers’ rights, including measures like not allowing parents to call teachers on their personal phones, though a specific timeline was not provided.

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