Asia is the world’s largest continent, home to 4 billion people residing in 47 different countries. These countries maintain a wide variety of school systems and experience vastly different rates of overall crime in society, making it difficult to generalize about school crime and violence across the continent as a whole. Some of the national school systems in Asia–such as those in South Korea and Japan–are considered to be among the most academically rigorous in the world, while others are held back by poverty and other socioeconomic and political problems.
School crime and violence rates vary throughout Asia. For some countries, the data available about these issues are very limited. The next paragraphs report the findings of just a few of the relevant studies that have been conducted in this area.
In 1994, the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), which aimed to compare rates of student attainment in science and math across many different countries, also surveyed students (in seventh and eighth grades) and teachers about school violence. An analysis of these data reveals that 60% of students in the Philippines said that they had been victims of school violence in the month prior to taking the survey. Slightly more than 30% of students in South Korea, more than 20% of students in Hong Kong and Thailand, and less than 10% of students in Singapore reported such victimization. To put these figures into perspective, more than 25% of students in the United States reported they had been victims of school violence in the previous month.
A different comparative study, which examined representative data from eighth graders, teachers, and principals in U.S. and South Korean schools, found that some measures of school violence were lower in South Korea than in the United States. Although it is important to keep in mind that all cross-national comparative studies have limitations, the findings of both this study and the TIMSS illustrate that, although some Asian countries may have lower rates of school crime or violence than the United States, school crime and violence are still important issues throughout much of the Asian continent.
National statistics seem to support this point. In Japan, although overall crime rates in society have traditionally been very low, the education ministry reported that, in fiscal year 2008, the number of violent acts committed in junior high schools dramatically increased; on the positive side, the number of bullying cases reported at all schooling levels decreased. In the Philippines, a report issued in 2009 by the human rights organization Plan Philippines (affiliated with the global nongovernmental organization Plan International) found that more than 40% of the public school students who were surveyed said that they had been threatened with physical violence at school. (Plan International has also produced publications about school violence in India, Thailand, and numerous other countries around the world. Information about how to obtain these resources is available in the References: section at the end of this article.)
In some Asian nations, concern about school violence has increased in recent years in response to high-profile crimes. For example, although levels of violence in schools are generally reported to be low in India, a number of recent incidents– including two fatal shootings between December 2007 and January 2008– received international media attention and increased Indian awareness of school violence issues. Similarly, several high-profile cases of school violence have raised concerns among Japanese citizens. One particularly infamous case in Japan occurred in 2001, when a mentally ill man stabbed 8 children to death at an elementary school. An eerily similar crime took place in China in 2004, when a mentally ill janitor stabbed 14 students at a kindergarten in Beijing, resulting in one death; this crime and several other incidents of violence in Chinese schools also received some international media attention.
What explains cross-national similarities and differences in rates of school violence? Why do some Asian countries seem to have higher rates of school crime and violence than others, and why do some Asian countries appear to have lower rates of school violence than the United States? Interestingly, the analysis of the 1994 TIMSS data described earlier found that rates of school violence were not related to the overall rates of crime in the countries that took part in the survey. Instead, according to this analysis, rates of school violence were associated with some socioeconomic factors but not others.
Other observers have theorized that different types of instructional methods and school environments could explain contrasting rates of violence. In this vein, one study found that South Korean schools that put students on academic tracking systems had higher rates of school violence than South Korean schools that did not do so.
Finally, some commentators have argued that different rates of school violence could be due to economic modernization. As Asian countries become more industrialized, such commentators claim, young people disassociate themselves from traditional values and immerse themselves in more violent movies and video games; according to this theory, such behavior may raise rates of violence. More cross-national comparative research is needed in the area of school violence to determine whether this and other explanations are correct.
What are Asian countries doing to reduce or prevent school crime and violence? In recent years, awareness of these issues has increased significantly in many countries in Asia, and a number of countries have developed national strategies for monitoring and combating violence. For example, in 2007, China’s Ministry of Education declared that it would launch a safety campaign on campuses. In 2005, South Korea’s Education Ministry initiated a nationwide plan to combat school violence; in 2010, a second five-year plan was announced, which will include increased use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) to monitor safety in both primary and secondary schools. In 2008, the global human rights organization Plan International launched a campaign to reduce school violence in many countries around the world, including nations in Asia.
The immensity and diversity of Asia makes it impossible to discuss school violence–and measures taken to prevent school violence–in every country in the continent. However, the sources listed in the References: section offer a jumping-off point for readers interested in exploring school crime and violence in Asia in greater depth.
- Akiba, M., & Han, S. (2007). Academic differentiation, school achievement and school violence in the USA and South Korea. Compare: A Journal of Comparative Education, 37(2), 201-219.
- Akiba, M., LeTendre, G. K., Baker, D. P., & Goesling, B. (2002). Student victimization: National and school system effects on school violence in 37 nations. American Educational Research Journal, 39(4), 829-853.
- Balasegaram, M. (2001, June 8). Violent crime stalks Japan’s youth. BBC News. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1377781.stm
- Forney, M. (2004, November 29). China’s school killings. Time. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,832294,00.html
- Plan International. (2009). Learn without fear: The global campaign to end violence in schools. Retrieved from https://plan-international.org/learnwithoutfear/the-campaign/learn-without-fear-the-global-campaign-to-end-violence-in-schools
- School violence set record last year. (2009, December 1). The Japan Times. Retrieved from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2009/12/01/news/school-violence-set-record-last-year/
- Wax, E. (2008, February 13). India shaken by school violence. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2008-02-13/world/36789746_1_abhishek-tyagi-indian-schools-school-violence