Every school day, an average of 68 students are punched, slapped, kicked or otherwise physically punished by their teachers, although physical punishment is prohibited by law. A new report by the education ministry confirmed that 6,721 teachers were reported to have used corporal punishment on 14,208 students in the academic year that ended in March.
This number is far higher than what was reported in the ministry’s interim report in April, which found only 840 teachers used violence on 1,890 students from April 2012 to January 2013. The number leaped after local boards looked into the issue more carefully, partially because of an incident last year at Sakuranomiya High School in Osaka in which a male student committed suicide after being repeatedly hit by his basketball coach.
Perhaps most shocking, the report found that at local public schools, teachers were disciplined or dismissed for violent acts in a mere 162 cases and reprimanded in only 2,590 cases. Teachers are using physical violence on students with impunity. These huge numbers provide clear evidence that the education ministry and local schools are not taking the issue seriously enough.
The confirmed cases took place at 4,152 primary, middle and high schools, both public and private. At primary schools, about 60 percent of the violent acts occurred during class. At middle and high schools, about 40 percent took place during club activities. Striking with bare hands was the most common form of violence, in 60 percent of cases. The violence used by teachers on students caused bruising and other injuries with 20 percent of students. Sixty-five students suffered eardrum damage and 40 students suffered bone fractures or sprains.
Solving this problem is urgent, not only for those students who have suffered, but also for the students witnessing such acts. Using the term “corporal punishment” clouds the issue. The word “punishment” implies that some crime or violation was committed and due process of law was followed. A more accurate description for a teacher hitting a student is “abuse” and “harassment.” Students who break rules or cause serious problems should be punished, but according to the rights they have as citizens, and with means other than teacher-delivered acts of violence.
Stricter procedures for handling cases of violence delivered by teachers to students would ensure that all cases, even ones that appear minor, are fully investigated. Administrators should no longer cover up allegations of violence, no matter how embarrassing they may be. The education ministry should strengthen the standards and procedures for dismissing teachers who use violence for any reason.
The use of physical force on students has no place in a modern society with enlightened views of education. Worse than that, it has a disastrous effect on students. By observing such behavior on the part of adults who should be acting as role models, students learn that impulsive acts of violence and the threat that lingers afterward are somehow acceptable ways of acting in society. They are not.
The education ministry and boards of education must act to halt the physical abuse of students by teachers.