Big Brother is Watching

When I was in school, there was little to monitor classroom behaviour (be it that of the students or of the teacher), other than oral accounts of what happened in the classroom setting. In South Korea, this is not the case. Shortly before Kris and I arrived, there was a major scandal where a teacher was caught on camera physically abusing a child. The teacher apparently gave a child a full-force punch that sent the learner flying a short distance. This naturally caused outcry throughout the country, and in a few weeks, every school in the country installed CCTV surveillance systems in all of their classrooms. Our school is no exception.

While the school claims that the CCTV system is designed to protect the children from abuses like the one that caught the imagination of the country, it has numerous other purposes. In our case, it helped to clear Kris of the allegations of child abuse that were laid against her. Kris has also used it to try and determine who has been stealing stamps out of her drawer. I will likely use it for the trivial task of assessing the true ownership of a particularly nice pencil.

However, a notable result of the installation of widespread CCTV is a very powerful panopticon effect in the hearts of the teachers. Jeremy Bentham first designed the panopticon prison structure centuries ago, with the aim of having greater psychological control over prisoners. The panopticon prison complex was built around one central guard tower, that could see into every single cell from a wide window, which the prisoners could not see into because of its height. This led to the prisoners not knowing when they were being actively watched by the guards, but always living in fear of breaking the rules, just in case the guard happened to be looking into their cell at the moment they committed the forbidden act.

The CCTV system has a similar effect on the teachers. It is very easy for someone to watch a class on the CCTV footage – all they need do is go to the CCTV room and sit down. Thus, it is possible for someone to be watching any particular class at any point throughout the school day, and the teachers know this. While I would certainly not do something as drastic as hitting a child, I am constantly thinking about what someone would do if they were watching my lessons take place. Could I be delivering this activity better? Should I have better posture? Should I try suppress my personal tics so that I do not get questioned about them later?

Even if our CCTV system was nothing more than a TV with all of the classes playing at once, it would still have a drastic effect on the teachers. The fact that it can also record data for later retrieval makes it a formidable tool for the school. For now, the system has only been used to help us. However, I am still wary of what else it could be used for in the future. I’m certainly not going to get fired for picking my nose more than the government-approved amount of times. I am constantly vigilant, constantly trying to improve myself. More importantly, I am constantly conscious of what I am doing. All because of a silly piece of plastic and glass staring out at me from the corner of the room. Staring unflinchingly.

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