Corporal punishment for Japanese high school students now under scrutiny

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-1-23 15:13:29

One month has passed since a 17-year- old student committed suicide after he was allegedly punished physically by the basketball club adviser at the high school where he attended in the western Osaka, but public opinion is still divided on the use of physical punishment for athletes and the city education board has been urged to take more concrete measures to protect students.

The Osaka City Board of Education decided Monday that it would stop accepting student applications for physical education programs at Sakuranomiya High School for the next school year starting in April.

This follows public criticism of the education board, which disclosed the news more than two weeks after the second-year student was discovered dead in his home on December 23. He had hanged himself.

According to city officials, the student, who served as captain of the club at the city-run Sakuranomiya High School, was slapped in the face several times by the 47-year-old teacher the day before his death following mistakes in a practice game. The teacher has also been the school's basketball club adviser.

Prior to Monday's announcement, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto visited the high school in person and asked students to understand the decision to suspend this year's examinations to enter physical education programs.

In the meeting with the students, Hashimoto stressed that the central problem is that the high school has inherited an old- fashioned manner of instruction and supervision. He also admitted that parents of some students at the school have voiced opposition to his idea.

"All teachers as well as parents and students must now deeply think of what direction we must take," the mayor said.

The education board has said that instead of accepting applications for physical education programs it will carry out examinations as it does for "normal programs" so that pupils who initially applied for a physical education program can still study at the school.

However, the only other action the education board took was to conduct a short one-hour "interview" with the adviser after the student's death and to ask 50 basketball club members at the municipal school, including both boys and girls, to complete a questionnaire.

Most of the students said they had witnessed the adviser resort to physical punishment against other members while 21 claimed they themselves had been physically abused.

Municipal board of education officials also told reporters that the city received information two years ago about corporal punishment carried out by the teacher, but at the time the school only provided the board with a report denying such physical abuse.

The board confirmed a slew of physical punishment was also practiced within the other sports teams at the school. Local media criticized the board for not taking prompt measures to further protect students from similar violence by club advisers and coaches.

The daily Asahi Shimbun cited a conservative city council member as pointing out that the educational authority has done almost nothing about the case.

But in Japan, physical punishment in educational institutions' sports clubs has been widely practiced among teachers and advisers. It is recognized as a very effective and common way to promote focus of mind and team spirit in order to win competitions or races during a student's time in school, which typically is the only stage in one's life a Japanese person can achieve feats of physical prowess.

Apart from Osaka, a supervisor and a coach in their 50's in a private school in Kobe in Western Japan who had slapped students' faces last summer were allegedly prohibited from training high school baseball players. The school is known for its repeated successes in Japanese high school baseball tournaments.

Moreover, the two instructors allegedly had received cash and gift coupons from parents who were actually thankful for providing such an "appropriate" education to guide their sons on a path that could eventually lead to the professional leagues.

Local media recently said female students belonging to the karate club at a school in Matsue City, also in western Japan, which has made several notable achievements in karate tournaments had been subjected to repeated physical punishment by a teacher in his 30s. The students said the teacher claimed the punishment was just a natural part of such training.

On the Osaka case, Mayor Hashimoto has promised to launch a full inquiry after he was further outraged by a public announcement by the board that it has allowed the adviser to remain as health and physical education teacher for 18 years. Personnel are usually transferred every seven to ten years.

The mayor has also asked the board to replace all teachers at the school.

But as long as society, including parents and teachers, do not change their positive attitude towards corporal punishment, any upcoming preventive measures will not be effective at improving education. Thus other incidents similar to the one at Sakuranomiya may not occur.

Analysts said Osaka should now look at more scientific and sophisticated ways of training the young athletes who will in the future compete for Japan on the international level without resorting to corporal punishment.

Posted in: Asia-Pacific

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