Over the decades since the end of the Korean War, South Korea has achieved a remarkable economic growth. The country has risen from the rubble of the Korean War (1950–1953) to become the fifteenth largest economy in the world. This rapid growth has come from the Korean people’s enthusiasm for education in a highly competitive society. South Korea’s academic environment is extremely competitive, and many Korean people regard getting into a prestigious university as a prerequisite to success.
This kind of atmosphere in society puts great pressure on young people, often resulting in extreme social problems like youth suicide. In 2010, for the third straight year, suicide remained the single largest cause of death among young people in Korea. Teenagers stress over having good grades in school and receive huge pressure from their parents and teachers about their grades.
School violence has also been a reason for youth suicide. School violence is becoming extremely popular throughout the whole country. According to recent data, violence in Korean schools has almost doubled in the past five years. New words reflecting the current situation have been created. For example, Il-Jin is the name for the group of students using violence against other students in the school. These students are often good-looking or physically strong and good fighters. Wang-Ta is the name for the student who is a victim of bullying and violence by other students like Il-Jin. Many students who are bullied are physically weak and timid and do not have much self-confidence.
In December 2011, a middle school student in the city of Daegu jumped from his apartment building, leaving a suicide note saying that he had been seriously harassed and frequently beaten by his classmates. Another middle school student in Gwangju also committed suicide, in the same month, after being physically and verbally assaulted by school bullies. The tools of bullying vary from forcing victims to run errands and stealing to sexual assault, confinement and beatings.
Experts say school violence has recently become more serious and frequent, partly due to competitive school programs that only focus on academic achievement, rather than on well-rounded personality education.
Many approaches are being tested to solve school violence in Korean society. One of them is the Happy School Campaign, a program that tries to solve the problem through scientific understanding of the brain and using breathing and meditation techniques to address the root of the problem. The campaign emphasizes that the problem be seen from a neuroscience perspective.
School violence is more serious in middle school, which allows us to make a link between being violent and brain development in youth. A teenager’s brain is different. It changes as much as in early childhood. The area in the brain where we process sensory information finishes its development right before or after a child is 10 years old, but the development of the frontal lobe, which conducts higher brain functions such as judging and decision-making, continues until the late teens. Therefore, teenagers can accept sensory information in the same way as adults but cannot make stable decisions in their lives like adults.
In adolescence, the brain is going through structural changes while it is full of many kinds of hormones, which means it is a very important time in the formation of character. Teenagers’ unstable behavior is related to immaturity in their frontal lobes. The school violence problem needs to be approached considering this characteristic of a teenager’s brain development.
Reducing school violence by brain meditation
The Happy School Campaign, which uses Brain Education (BE), has been implemented as an educational program in South Korean schools. It offers a new approach to solve school violence through brain science and education for youth character development. The basic methodology of brain education is breathing and meditation. It is designed to help emotional regulation and improve self-confidence. So far, 415 schools in Korea have joined the Happy School Campaign and applied BE, and they expect BE will eventually eradicate the violence problem in their schools.
Here is a story from Hwa-Young Lee, a teacher at the Korean Dohwa engineering high school, which joined the Happy School Campaign and applied BE for the whole school in 2010. He is in charge of student guidance for the whole school.
The goal of the Happy School Campaign is to make a school without violence and cigarette smoking (also high among students) through using the brain well and communicating with each other well. Through breathing and meditation and a reward-and-penalty system instead of corporal punishment, violence in the school has significantly decreased.