The World Today for September 20, 2023

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South Korean teachers say they have it tough.

Their complaints include pupils assaulting them in the classroom, lawsuits from unhappy parents, and stress that turns their hair gray, the Telegraph reported.

The salaries of teachers early in their careers, furthermore, are among the lowest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, wrote the Korea Herald. Teachers who have more than 15 years of experience earn more than the average, however, meaning those who stick it out might be compensated for their troubles.

These issues are important because education in South Korea is currently in a state of crisis.

Recently, hundreds of thousands of educators in the country took to the streets to demand protection and other measures after a 23-year-old elementary school teacher in Seoul committed suicide in her classroom in July. Tens of thousands walked off their jobs.

Violent students, the daily workload, and parental complaints at the teacher’s school were at “an incomprehensibly immense level,” according to the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union, reported the Korea Times. School administrators, however, denied that any violence took place at the school, eliciting criticism that they were attempting to downplay the tragedy.

An important aspect of this story is the hyper-competitiveness of South Korean schools and the intense pressure cooker-like atmosphere that surrounds exams, the Guardian explained. Students regularly go to private tutors after school, too, and study at night.

This harsh culture has caused teacher suicides in South Korea, noted CNN.

For the past six years through June, about 100 public school teachers have committed suicide in the country. Fifty-seven were in elementary schools, Reuters reported.

In 2014, the country enacted a law that allowed citizens to report a suspected case of child abuse without needing to show evidence for their claims. The teachers’ union said that 60 percent of educators have been accused. Investigations and court cases to get to the bottom of claims can last a year.

Teachers, for example, are asking for legislation to grant them immunity from child abuse claims that parents are leveling at teachers who reprimand students for bad behavior, for example making children stand in class after they forget their books and other materials multiple times.

“We’re asking the government to provide a specific manual for dealing with misbehaving students,” teacher Son Gyeong-eun told the New York Times. “Reasonable discipline shouldn’t count as child abuse.”

In response, officials told the teachers that under South Korean law, teacher strikes were illegal and threatened disciplinary action, prompting Education International, an international federation of teachers’ unions and professional groups, to call on the government to uphold their rights to collective action.

For the teachers, it’s a matter of life and death.


Beyond Borders


Tensions between Canada and India escalated Tuesday, a day after the Canadian prime minister accused the Indian government of involvement in the killing of a Sikh activist on Canadian soil, leading both countries to expel each other’s senior diplomats, NBC News reported.

On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that authorities were looking into “credible allegations” that Indian government agents were behind the shooting in June of Sikh activist and Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar in the province of British Columbia.

Nijjar had been an outspoken supporter of an independent Sikh state known as Khalistan in the northern Indian state of Punjab – where most of India’s Sikhs live. The Indian government had branded him a “terrorist.”

Trudeau urged the Indian government to cooperate in the probe, noting that the “killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”

Following the announcement, Ottawa ordered the expulsion of a top Indian diplomat from the country.

On Tuesday, Indian officials rejected the allegations as “absurd,” saying Canada’s expulsion furnished the government’s “growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities.”

In a tit-for-tat move, New Delhi asked a senior Canadian envoy to leave India within five days.

India has long accused Canada – where about two percent of the population is Sikh – of supporting the separatist movement. While the Khalistan movement is banned in India, it has numerous supporters among the Sikh diaspora in other countries, such as Canada and the United Kingdom.

Observers noted that Nijjar’s killing and ongoing disputes over the Khalistan movement have affected diplomatic relations between both countries.

The two countries have paused negotiations on an initial trade agreement that they hoped to finalize by the end of this year. Canada has also postponed a trade delegation to India scheduled for later this fall.

Pipe Dreams


Hundreds of Libyans protested in the devasted eastern city of Derna this week to demand an international investigation and government accountability following deadly floods that killed tens of thousands of people in the region, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Last week, Storm Daniel caused major floods in the war-torn North African nation, with thousands missing and the exact death toll yet to be determined.

The storm resulted in the collapse of two dams near Derna, causing devastation across the city and leaving many residents homeless.

On Monday, hundreds demonstrated outside a mosque in the city about the perceived mismanagement and corruption that resulted in the catastrophe. Protesters called for the United Nations and other Libyan government agencies to thoroughly investigate how the disaster happened, and hold officials accountable.

Demonstrators noted that these dams had not been properly maintained for more than two decades, despite government funds allocated for their care.

The disaster and subsequent protests come as Libya continues to grapple with a political crisis. The country has been ruled by two rival administrations in the years following the ouster and death of autocratic leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The United Nations-backed Government of National Unity is led by Prime Minister Abdul-Hamid Dbeibah and operates from Tripoli in northwest Libya. The eastern faction, meanwhile, led by commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army, backs the eastern-based parliament, presided over by rival Prime Minister Osama Hamad.

Analysts said the Derna protests are significant because some demonstrators called for political change. Libyan authorities on both sides are known to closely monitor and swiftly repress dissent, according to the Journal.

While this week’s demonstrations did not take aim at Haftar, protesters primarily focused their anger on the eastern-based parliament and its speaker, Aguila Saleh.

Saleh and other officials rejected allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

The Street Appeal


Thousands of Indigenous Guatemalans protested in the country’s capital this week in support of President-elect Bernardo Arévalo, as prosecutors attempt to ban his Seed Movement party, the Associated Press reported.

The protesters demanded the resignation of government officials involved in prosecuting Arévalo and banning his party, calling those efforts a “coup.”

The demonstrations underscore the ongoing political crisis in the Central American country following last month’s presidential runoff. Arévalo won that vote in a landslide, but authorities have launched a series of probes related to the registration of his Seed Movement party and alleged fraud in the election.

International observers, however, have questioned the evidence supporting these claims.

In response, Arévalo called on Guatemalans last week to protest attempts to obstruct his presidency, emphasizing the need for unity among various groups in Guatemala.

He also criticized Attorney General Consuelo Porras’ actions and called for her resignation. Arévalo also said he is temporarily suspending the transition process to replace President Alejandro Giammattei.

Porras and her officials are also facing domestic and international pressure for what appears to be an attempt to prevent Arévalo from coming to power.

The attorney general’s office has said that it is only following the law.


Full Circle

In the 1960s, archaeologists discovered a horde of intricate stone tools and nearly 600 small stone balls at the 1.4-million-year-old site of “Ubeidiya” in northern Israel.

For decades, scholars have debated whether these plum-sized artifacts – known as spheroids – were intentionally made or the indirect result of making other tools.

Now, a new 3D analysis suggested that early hominins created these stone balls deliberately, Science Magazine reported.

In their paper, researchers explained that the spheroids were found at a site where an ancient human relative and toolmaker, Homo erectus, potentially resided.

They studied 150 of these limestone spheroids using a newly developed 3D analysis software that can measure angles on the surface of a spheroid, calculate the level of surface curvature, and determine the object’s center of mass.

The findings showed that H. erectus intentionally crafted these spheres: Each of the spheroids had a large “primary surface” surrounded by smaller worked planes.

The research team also noted that it was unlikely these artifacts were formed naturally: The Ubeidiya spheroids had rougher surfaces and some were shaped in such a way that they resembled near-perfect spheres.

Natural ones, such as river stones, are smoother in surface and are never truly spherical.

“It appears that hominins 1.4 million years ago had the ability to conceptualize a sphere in their minds and shape their stones to match,” said lead author Antoine Muller. “This takes remarkable planning and forethought, as well as a great deal of manual dexterity and skill.”

Other researchers suggested that the study method can be used to investigate older spheroids found in African sites, which could serve as “a valuable tool” for gaining insight into the minds of ancient craftspeople.

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