Hello. I’m Heeyeon Cho, and I’m the superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education in the Republic of Korea.
Korea is seen by the world as a good example of rapid economic growth and creation of a democratic society. Behind the quantitative growth, however, lies a painful side. The country has had the lowest happiness index for students, forced as they are into an excessively competitive education system that focuses only on college entrance. Widespread agreement to create school communities where children and adolescents can be happier has resulted in establishment of the Seoul Students’ Human Rights Ordinance in 2012.
Since enforcement of the Seoul Students’ Human Rights Ordinance, we have noticed positive changes. Corporal punishment and school violence have decreased dramatically, and schools have become more democratic where students respect diversity and procedure. In the past, students were considered immature and in need of discipline, but that perspective has changed with the ordinance. As their human rights are guaranteed at school, students are growing up to be leaders of our future society and persons with dignity who have learned to protect their rights and respect the rights of others.
Accordingly, we have published and distributed When Students Become Citizens, a booklet that introduces the ordinance and the changes it has brought to schools, for other nations to see how human rights education for students is provided in Seoul.
This booklet explains, in an easy narrative, the background to enactment of the ordinance, the current situation and outcomes of the students’ human rights system in Seoul, and examples of the changes and improved awareness in schools. It is offered in four languages besides Korean (English, Japanese, Chinese and Spanish), and has been distributed to a number of international human rights organizations and educational institutions around the world.
With a hope that When Students Become Citizens will be widely used in education that ensures the human rights of students across the world, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will continue to adhere to the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which advocates that “human dignity is the foundation of human life” and to serve as a leader in protecting the human rights of children and adolescents in Korea.