The recurring tragedy of teacher suicides in South Korea paints a grim picture of the immense pressure and harsh conditions educators face in the country. The harrowing statistics reflect a deeper crisis brewing within the education sector, exacerbated by the lack of support and understanding from both parents and the school system.
Over the last decade, a total of 144 teachers have taken their own lives, with a noticeable surge in the annual numbers from six in 2014 to 25 in 2021. While the figure decreased to 20 in 2022, as many as 14 teachers have already died by suicide in the first eight months of 2023 alone.
The recent suicides have reignited a nationwide debate on teachers’ rights and the urgent need for systemic reform in South Korea. These tragedies underscore the need to address the pressing issues of unruly students, malicious complaints from parents, and the overall working conditions for educators.
The most recent example that stirred public discourse occurred on July 20 when a 23-year-old elementary school teacher, identified as Min So, took her own life. The incident sparked outrage and prompted tens of thousands of teachers to go on strike, demanding better treatment and increased protections for educators.
The suicide spotlighted the abuse teachers endure from students and parents — as reflected in a similar incident where a memorial was held at Seo 2 Elementary School in Seoul following the suicide of another educator. The mourners, including fellow teachers, lined up to pay their respects and to bring attention to the abuse suffered by educators at the hands of students and parents.
Regionally, the situation seems to be more severe in certain areas. Gyeonggi Province reported the highest number of teacher suicides, with 31 deaths — followed by Seoul with 22, Busan with 13, and South Chungcheong Province with 12. The majority of the victims were elementary school teachers, accounting for 54.2% of the total, with the age group of 20s and 30s being significantly affected, comprising 41.7% of the total.
Teachers across the nation are urging the authorities to take immediate and effective measures to alleviate their distressing working conditions and to restore their authority and dignity in classrooms. According to them, the rise in suicides highlights the imperative need for comprehensive education reform to prevent further tragedies and to foster a supportive environment for both educators and students alike.