[EDITORIALS]Let Schools Stay Open May 15

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[EDITORIALS]Let Schools Stay Open May 15

A significant number of elementary schools in Seoul plan not to hold classes on Teacher's Day, Tuesday, to avoid gift-giving by students' parents. According to the Seoul Board of Education, 216 or 40.3 percent of 536 elementary schools in the city will not have classes. Thirty of these schools will also close down on Monday and 13 on Wednesday.

Seoul Board of Education officials have asked that the holidays not be linked to the giftgiving issue. They insist the holidays are intended to allow children to visit teachers whom they are especially grateful to and to promote awareness of the love of family. However, many teachers we talked to said they would rather rest at home than rouse suspicions that they received bribes. The board of education had all elementary schools in Seoul take a day off on Teacher's Day in 1999 but allowed classes last year because of public criticism.

Taking a discretionary holiday cannot be faulted in and of itself. The problem lies with the fact that the schools plan to close to prevent teachers from receiving gifts from parents. If there are teachers who accept gifts (bribes) they should be categorically punished instead of closing the entire school. Is it a good policy to prevent students from showing their gratefulness to teachers just because bribery takes place here and there? As the old Korean saying goes, would you not make soybean paste just because a bug might get into it?

Taking a day off to prevent teachers from being approached with bribes can also hurt teachers' morale and possibly damage their reputation. While we cannot say for sure that bribery does not take place at all, most teachers maintain their integrity. Isn't the policy of taking a day off essentially making all teachers - including noble- minded ones - bribery suspects?

In the past, parents taught their children to respect their teachers to the point that they should not even step on their shadow. In stark contrast, the morale of Korean teachers today is at an all time low. If moral integrity, which guarantees teachers' social status, is shaken, education will cease to flourish in our society. Maintaining morale requires the support and trust of the government, school principals and parents. Boosting morale and giving proper respect to teachers is a small step toward good education and the true meaning of Teacher's Day.

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