The Relationship Between Law-Related Education and Legal Awareness of Elementary School and Middle School Students in Beijing

Abstract: This paper analyzes the origin and cause of school violence. Using surveys designed to test current students’ legal awareness, past legal education experience and expectations of legal education, we find that the lack of legal education is one of the many factors which drove the rise in the number of school violence cases. We also find a direct correlation between the rise in juvenile crime rate and the school’s negligence of legal education and included suggestions for the improvement of legal education curriculums as well as extracurricular legal knowledge training.

I. Introduction

School violence has been increasingly prevalent over the past several years and gave rise to a plethora of media coverages. The increasing severity of school violence cases and the decreasing age groups which are affected by it have attracted a lot of public attention.

In mid-April 2017, a severe school violence case broke out in Santang Central School located in Taihe county, Anhui province, China. Nine girls beat a seventh-grade girl named Wen (anonym) while another girl recorded and posted the video online. But what attracted most of my attention are the cases happening around me. I have seen a classmate rejected, mocked, even verbally abused by others in my tenth grade because he is introverted and quiet. He eventually was put into the hospital for mental disorder reasons.

According to a hundred school violence videos gathered by reports of China Central Television, the perpetrator is commonly found to verbally abuse, push, slap, or kick the victim. Some of the perpetrators even utilized tools like metal sticks, bricks, or chairs to beat the victim, or humiliated them by striping the victims naked posting the video online. These actions inflicted not only physical pain on the victim, but also caused unmeasurable damage to the victim’s personality and mentality.

As shown in a report by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, in 2016, various branches of the People’s Procuratorate in the nation have processed arrest warrant requests for 1881 people because of bullying or school violence, moved 3697 people to the prosecution examination procedure. In 2017, the People’s Procuratorate approved arrest warrants for 2486 school violence cases including 3788 people, prosecuted 3494 cases including 5468 people. From the comparison of the number of the year 2016 and year 2017, it is easy to notice that the number of arrest warrants issued by the People’s Procuratorate due to school violence has risen over 50%.

School violence is not the only example of the rise in the number of juvenile crimes. According to statistics provided by the China News Service, juvenile crimes now make up 70% of the total national criminal offenses with the age of criminals further decreasing. The Chinese government put a significant amount of emphasis on the prevention of juvenile crimes to maintain social stability. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security also issued a red alert of juvenile crimes and the trend of younger offenders; these have become some critical problems that undermine the Chinese social order and public safety.

The series of data mentioned above clearly indicates that the occurrence of school violence is far from a coincidence. What caused many cases of juvenile crimes?

I conclude the following reasons:

First, schools and parents are negligent about managing illegal incidences after they have happened. Schools did not inflict enough punishment on the offender to make him, or her realize the severity of the problem and left room for the offender to think that he or she can get away. Furthermore, some parents or teachers also illegally use physical punishment as part of their education and failed to set up an excellent example for other students.

Second, the mentality of students is mostly immature. During adolescence, most young people experience rapid mental, and physical development cannot yet make fully accurate judgments. The Chinese internet contains a plethora of information that contains pornography or violence. Unable to correctly evaluate the consequences of their actions, many students committed crimes purely for the sake of their peers.

Third, the Chinese legal system is inadequate for juvenile crimes with sentences too light for the minors. The Protection of Minors Acts should only protect the legal rights of minors and not tolerate their illegal behaviors. The indulgence provided by the act leads the minors to think that they can get away without punishment and lets them make further mistakes. This is different from many foreign legal systems which weigh sentences equally for the minors and adults.

However, a late 2017 news raises another issue that is worth contemplating. Five girls in a vocational school verbally abused and beat two other female students, stripped one of them naked and spread the video recording online. This course of actions resulted in minor injuries of the victims and caused depression for one of the victims who made her unable to work or study. (China News Service, 2017) According to the later reports of the incidence, one of the perpetrators mentioned that she was unaware that her actions were illegal and thought of them as playful acts between classmates rather than something that raises legal issues. Her comment gave me another idea about the origin of school violence: is it the lack of knowledge about law and regulations and ignorance about the consequences of actions that caused the students’ increasingly violent actions?

II. Survey Design

To prove the accuracy of the above-proposed arguments, I browsed and read a lot of related materials. I have found that the government put a lot of emphasis on the legal education for the minors. According to the Legal Education for Elementary School Student published in 2017, the Chinese government uses actual cases to educate students about the law in various aspects including the common knowledge about law, family life, school life, social life, action guidance, and safety protections. The Legal Education for Elementary School Student even set up educational websites. The Report for Reinforcing Legal Education for Students in Elementary School and Middle School pointed out that most schools can follow the guidelines detailed in the №58 File: Suggestions for the Work in Reinforcing Legal Education for Adolescent Student and emphasize legal education as part of their goals to achieve legitimate management of the school and to popularize liberal arts education. The schools also established working groups to lead the legal education and planned management guidelines with a focus on legal education that achieves the goal by organizing school leaders, completing existing guidance, designing educational content and methodologies. These works are also included in the evaluation process of school headmasters for them to continue the tenure and long-term responsibilities. At the end of the report, it shows that the outcome of spreading legal education is highly noticeable with a significant rise in legal awareness in the elementary and middle school students across the nation.

Even though the report showed that the government had put a lot of emphasis on the prevention of school violence and the legal education has achieved phenomenal results, it is still unclear why the crime rate for juvenile crimes stayed in a high level. To investigate the reason, I read the Lesson Plans for Elementary and Middle School Legal Education and found that the fundamental objective for Chinese legal education system is to prevent juvenile crimes rather than to teach the young people about using the law to protect their constitutional rights. Under the current society, young people should not only know about the law but also have the ability to use the law to defend themselves.

To find out about the current level of legal awareness among the elementary and middle school students in Beijing, I designed the Survey on the Relationship Between Legal Education and Legal Awareness for Elementary and Middle School Student in Beijing according to the supporting documents Readings About Teenager Legal Education, Common Legal Knowledge for Elementary and Middle School Students, and The Foundations of Chinese Legal System. Different from other surveys, this survey did not include questions about the definition of law or law enforcement agencies. Instead, the survey asked about the common legal knowledge of elementary and middle school students and connected the legal awareness with the level of legal education they received from the school. The goal of the survey is to find out the relationship between the rise of juvenile crime rate and the lack of legal education in elementary and middle school.

Based on the fact that most school violence happens in middle schools, I chose students in three elementary schools and eight middle schools as the sample which includes about 2,500 students from ordinary public schools, key public schools, and private international schools. For survey design, I included forty questions about three main aspects: the prevalence of school violence and the attitude toward it, teenager’s knowledge about the law, and the current situation about legal education in schools. The objective of the survey is to investigate the real reason for juvenile crimes happens so often.

III. Findings and Analysis of Results

Among the 2,500 surveys collected, the total number of elementary to middle school student is around 1,800 which makes up 72% of the total number of people studied. The total number of elementary school students is about 500 which makes up 20% of the total number of people surveyed. The rest 8% of people surveyed are feedbacks from college students, and their results are not included in the findings.

1. The Prevalence of School Violence and Students’ Attitude Toward School Violence

Nearly 70% of the students expressed zero tolerance toward school violence; 55% of students have seen school violence happening around them; among these school violence cases, 51% of them were resolved with the intervention of teachers or parents, 47% of them were put off with no particular resolutions, and only 2% of them were resolved by police or legal forces. Regarding the question about satisfaction with the resolution, 25% of people expressed highly unsatisfied with the result, and 26% of people were satisfied with the result. Another thought-provoking aspect of the findings is that nearly half of the kids were unsatisfied with the result yet are unable to find other ways to solve the problem. They could only accept the resolution with resignation. When students are asked to image school violence happening to them, 75% of them wish to seek help from students or teachers.

According to the data presented above, it is clear to see that school violence related criminal activities have become increasingly prevalent. One in every two students has seen school violence happening around him or her. Although most students have strong emotions against school violence, they seldom speak publicly against it because of three main reasons. First, students are threatened by the possibility of retaliatory actions of the perpetrators made it harder for students to expose school violence. Second, even with the help of school parents trying to resolve the issue, students found the result unsatisfactory and are unable to find better ways to protect their rights. Third, school or law enforcement agencies failed to inflict enough punishment on the perpetrators to prevent a likely incidence from happening. Society, school, students, law and management all showed weakness in dealing with school violence cases and resulted in a vicious circle that only fostered more juvenile crimes and led to more severe consequences.

2. Legal Knowledge of the Minors

The survey included three levels to test legal knowledge: knowledge about public safety, basic knowledge about the law, and awareness of protections of rights. According to the result, the minor’s level of legal knowledge is decreasing.

Nearly 84% of the students can correctly answer questions related to basic safety questions, yet there are still 16% of them who cannot answer questions about, for example, emergency phone numbers for police or fire.

Regarding the part on basic knowledge about the law, the survey included questions on some common laws that students are exposed to in their daily lives including the Law on the Protection of Minors, the Criminal Law, the Law on the Protections of Intellectual Properties, the Law on Internet Securities. Even if these laws are commonly seen in daily lives, on average only 66% of the students answered questions about them correctly. Specifically, for the question about whether elementary school students (aged between six and thirteen) will be punished for breaking the law, only 23% of the students answered correctly. For the question about whether middle school students (age between fourteen and eighteen) will be punished for breaking the law, only 20% of the students answered correctly. Furthermore, 44% of students answered correctly on the definition of probation. For other similar questions, only 30% to 40% of the students answered correctly.

The survey of awareness of the protection of rights included real-life scenarios that list out possible infringement on personal rights in life to test whether the students are capable of using the law to protect themselves. In this part, the average percentage of people who answered correctly is 50%. For the question of whether it is illegal to play unlicensed music or videos in the public commercial locations, only less than 10% of the people answered right. Also, less than 30% of the students correctly answered if it is legitimate to send money to online blog streamers without parental permissions. The analysis of results shows that students cannot distinguish between the actions that cause infringement upon intellectual properties and do not understand how to use the law to protect their rights. For students of the age twelve to eighteen, they experience rapid mental and physical developments and have a greater demand for independence and freedom. As a result, teenagers tend to limit the range of topics that they discuss with their parents and choose to disclose the rest of the information to their friends or classmates. Under the general trend that most teenagers lack a solid understanding of the law and protections, teenagers can only receive very limited help from their discussions with friends about legal topics and thus choose to take no action.

3. Legal Education Offered in Schools

Although the government has requested to strengthen legal education in schools, few schools offer proper legal education to their students. There are only 15% of the schools studied which offer regular legal classes to their students. Nearly 69% of students said their schools never offered any courses related to law. About 16% of the students said although their schools offered legal courses, the heavier workload of mathematics, Chinese studies, English made them unable to have enough study hours for law and caused most of their legal knowledge to come from the internet. In the survey, over 70% if the students think it is necessary to have legal courses and over 50% if students think they can benefit from classes about the law. However, there are only 25% of the students who think their current knowledge in law can satisfy their daily need.

It is easy to discover from the data above that the current emphasis schools put on legal education is drastically different from what is described in The Report on Strengthening Legal Education for Elementary and Middle School Students. Although elementary school and middle school students wish to have more exposures to law, the current exam-oriented education in China largely ignores those interests and focuses more on things like college admission rates. This problem cannot be solved by the efforts of individual schools and requires the establishment of a more comprehensive educational system. It is very hard for teenagers to draw connections between dots of their legal knowledge when they are experiencing a crucial stage of development in their life but lack proper education in law. They will, as a result, become unaware of the consequences of their actions and more reckless when making decisions.

IV. Conclusions and Recommendations

The report of the 19th convention of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress clearly pointed out the important role of law for society and the country. Legitimate governance is the foundation and assurance for Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. It matters greatly for the prosperity of the country and people’s happiness. Citizens having a solid knowledge base in law are the foundation of achieving such a goal. The legal awareness of citizens and government officials’ abilities to enforce the law and ensure equality before the law is hugely important for the establishment of a fair judicial system and democracy. The minors carry the potential of their nations, so it is critical for the society to put more emphasis on establishing legal awareness for the minors.

Although the government designed various policies, the current legal education system in schools is far from being adequate. For improvement to the legal education system, I make the following recommendations:

First, I recommend an amendment to the contents in the legal education for minors. The Chinese legal education started in October of 2014. The government passed The Decision of the CPC Central Committee on Major Issues Pertaining to Comprehensively Promoting the Rule of Law. According to the Guidelines for Teenager Legal Education, publishers made the textbox for the course “Law and Morality.” The current textbook by People’s Education Press included basic safety education. However, the textbook’s content is mundane and lacks practicability. The legal education in schools should first specify the goal to achieve a noticeable effect.

The goal of legal education in China is not only to reduce minor delinquency, but also to ask students to apply the law to real life and to protect their rights as individuals.

Concerning with curriculum arrangement, schools should formulate realistic contents for legal education. The different levels of legal education should be introduced to students from different age groups. I suggest the curriculum should include “The Traffic Law,” “Law on the Internet Security,” “The Law on Prevention of Juvenile Crimes,” and others from our daily life, ensuring the broad concept of legal knowledge. Legal education for juveniles should be as important as art and science and should be conducted with a holistic approach.

Schools can expose students to practical cases from newspaper and televisions. In addition, students can attend court trials, learning legal information from witnessing the actual process of our legal system. The exposure of real-life disputes in court, litigation, for instance, can enhance student’s knowledge and insights about the law.

Furthermore, the curriculum on law should properly handle the relationship between instructions on the actual terms of law and instructions on legal awareness. Although these two types of instructions are inseparable, a solid foundation in knowing the actual terms is crucial for legal awareness, which is the goal of knowing the terms. School and teachers should let the students know what the regulations are and their meanings. If there is only instruction on the terms, it is likely that students develop mistakes in their cognition. For example, the student assembly thinks the law is strict and detached from our daily life. They regarded the law as a tool of governance and is unrelated. So the instruction of legal awareness mentioned above brings law to the students and guide them by examples to establish a proper attitude. Additionally, the government should establish comprehensive legal education guidelines and supervision mechanism in order to increase the emphasis schools, students and parents put on legal education.

Legal education is a social project where it requires the participation from all sectors from society. The administrative department of education needs to formulate concrete plans, putting legal education on track of legal management while establishing a specialized institution for legal education to achieve control and implementation. Meanwhile, the government should intensify inspection and incorporate legal education curriculum into the general education guideline by including a specific schedule for the curses and adding relevant legal content in the college admission exams.

Schools should clarify their responsibilities by assigning tasks and standards for teacher and relating efforts to results through students’ achievements, affecting their mid-year evaluation and mid-year bonuses. Faculty competency has a significant impact on the growth of students. Therefore, it is especially important to improve faculty competency in related legal subjects. Schools must train and assess teachers, class deans, and vice principals on their legal knowledge of the legal system, gradually leading to equip full-time legal faculty. Nonetheless, the importance these legal understanding should be as valuable as the core class in the syllabus, intertwining both into college admission exams.

Schools play an essential role in the legal educations for adolescent students. However, in the context of an exam-oriented education system, the legal curriculum, as electives, still has not received enough attention from schools, families, and student bodies. Educators should take responsibility to influence the students, acknowledging legal understanding is essential in our daily lives. Furthermore, it is also important to recognize the importance of linking legal education with social responsibility and individual rights protections, promoting the power of learning the legal system.

Meanwhile, families and societies must exert their respective advantages and strive to create a social environment that appreciates, advocates, and abide the law. Extracurricular activities that include legal education must create a healthy environment for students to strive while caring for the community. The schools should connect with governmental and legal institutions to employ professionals as counselors to communicate with students and their families. This way, the counselors can provide a comprehensive and multilateral legal education for students. Moreover, it is necessary to strengthen holistic societal management and carry out centralized improvement and adjustment for public safety for campuses and neighborhoods, creating a healthy learning environment for students and families.

In conclusion, there are many methodologies to inform students about legal education. It is essential for society to conduct scientific research and develop strategies according to social trends, preventing juvenile delinquency while enhancing legal concepts for minors.

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