[Viewpoint]Power for the teachersEvery Korean talks about the importance of education. Everyone has such a keen interest in education that they all think they are experts.
However, we are increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of our public education. More and more citizens feel that our education only brings about pain, not hope. While the fetters of discontent have been locked for decades, no clear solutions have been suggested.
I am also frustrated by the unchanging situation. However, my conviction that there is a need for change, with schools and teachers at the center of it, has not changed. Society might detest schools and the teachers, but I strongly believe education is our future and our hope.
Recently, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced a plan to give the schools more autonomy. The plan has generated a considerable amount of controversy. Some opponents are rallying in protest.
However, I would ask whether we have an environment in which school principals have the authority and accountability to run the schools and teachers can devote themselves to education, according to their conscience and conviction.
Have the various educational demands of the students, parents and communities been sufficiently reflected in the operation of the schools? I would have to say no to both questions.
So far, the Ministry of Education has issued various orders about the specifics of school operations, according to the Elementary and Middle School Act. The principals were considered to be competent when they followed orders properly. Even a teacher who hopes to tailor his education to his students ends up going against the ministry’s guidelines.
In reality, many teachers feel sorry for the students because they could not afford to spare more time for them. Instead, the teachers have to deal with filling out more than 5,000 official documents every year.
Now, the schools have to change and we should let them change. If we keep the structure in which the central government gives orders and supervises details, then hoping our schools will provide a diverse and quality education is like looking for fish in trees.
Therefore, we should not argue with the idea that giving schools autonomy means regulations on education will be lifted. It is reasonable to discuss how we can minimize the adverse side effects and confusion that autonomy can bring to education and seek solutions.
The latest hands-off plan doesn’t mean the central government should slack off in its responsibility to educate the public. There should be sufficient administrative and financial assistance to reduce the gaps between schools in terms of their educational finances and facilities.
Moreover, autonomy does not mean the central government’s responsibilities are simply handed over to the municipal and provincial boards of education. There would be no improvement if the boards of education were given expanded authority without making any substantial changes to the schools.
As schools are given increased autonomy, principals should feel more responsibility and reasonably accommodate the educational demands of the students, parents, the local community and educational groups to enhance satisfaction and create a happy learning ground for the students.
It is not right if we are overwhelmed by the controversies about advanced classes and additional periods but fail to see the bigger picture.
We are truly working for the sake of the students when we lift the various restrictions that have mummified the schools. Narrow thought holds that giving schools autonomy means every school in the country must implement advanced classes and additional periods all at the same time.
The point is that schools can reflect in their curriculum the opinions of the students and parents, as well as in after-school programs and sample tests.
I hope the government plan provides an opportunity for schools to resolve the various educational demands of the students and ultimately reinforces public education.
The teachers are playing the central role here, and their efforts are as important as ever. The educational authorities should also provide appropriate measures to accommodate the added burdens on the teachers.
*The writer is president of the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Unions. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Won-hee
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