Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Suicide is the number one cause of death among South Koreans under the age of 24, and bullying is one of the biggest contributors to youth suicides in the country. According to a joint survey conducted in 2013 by the Bang Jeong Hwan Foundation and the Social Development Institute at Yonsei University, one out of seven elementary school children said they had been bullied. Unfortunately, the suicide impulse among students who have been bullied is noticeably higher than the average. The most recent result of the annual survey by the Youth Violence Prevention Foundation shows that 44.7% of children who had been bullied have thought about committing suicide. The government recently named school violence as one of the four “social evils” that need to be stamped out of Korean society, along with sexual violence, domestic violence, and junk food.
Despite the serious nature of the problem and recent attention to the issue, the default reaction to school violence by educators and the government used to be to understate, cover up, or ignore the problem. Educators and government officials were afraid of losing face if the problem were to be revealed publicly. Besides, given that many school officials grew up during different times, they generally viewed violence at school as something children “grew out of.” Reflecting this ignorance and unwillingness to change, when Jongki founded his organization in 1995, government officials did not allow him to use the word “school violence” in the organization’s name and told him not to disrupt schools, saying bullying is only a rare occurrence among troubled children and dropouts.
When Jongki founded the Youth Violence Prevention Foundation, there were no other organizations focused on addressing school violence. It was only after Jongki started the foundation that self-help groups of victims and their families began to form. Still, their work did not go much further than protesting against the government and blaming its inaction for the continued bullying in school. There was little research available on school violence, much of which was based on anecdotal and superficial data built from a purely academic perspective.
While an effective intervention system for school violence was slow to develop, school violence itself continued to evolve in its scale and forms, making it difficult to detect or tackle in a timely manner. As a result, violence at school was often left unnoticed and unaddressed, leaving children with nowhere to turn to, resulting in serious emotional and developmental implications.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Jongki led Korea’s first organized effort to recognize school violence and define it as a systemic social problem, which concerns many stakeholders including students, families, and schools. When Jongki founded the Youth Violence Prevention Foundation in 1995, school violence in Korea was seen as merely unfortunate and isolated incidents among troubled students. Korea did not even use the word “bullying” (or “school violence” in Korean) despite the fact that it was becoming a more frequent and serious occurrence in the everyday life of students across the country. To build a chain of intervention, he first worked to generate society-wide visibility for the issue by drafting the Special Act on Prevention and Handling of School Violence and engaging the public to support its passage. Eventually passed in 2004 by the National Assembly, the law put strong pressure on government authorities and schools to take systemic actions.
Jongki went on to create concrete opportunities and incentives for key stakeholders to get involved in addressing school violence. He believes that lasting change will only be possible when solving school violence becomes a society-wide priority in which everyone sees a respective role, instead of merely ceding responsibilities to experts. Thus, he has engaged various groups including teachers, police officers, attorneys, counselors, and corporations in every step of the intervention system.
Having defined and created the entire field of school violence policy in Korea, ranging from prevention and detection to intervention, Jongki continues to innovate on the intervention chain and has begun to grow his impact internationally. Recently, Jongki created a reconciliation program to encourage constructive and empathetic communication between the victim, the perpetrator, and both families. Additionally, he has also built a post-violence care program to prevent the often overlooked long-term effects on the victim.