A battle at schoolThe first direct election for Seoul education superintendent is to be held on July 30, and campaigning is not going the way it should. School principals and teachers are required to remain neutral, but they are working on candidates’ campaigns. More than 230 cases of illegal campaigning were reported to a parents’ association. The principal of one elementary school handed out the business card of a certain candidate to parents along with an envelope containing cash.
A junior high school teacher who is a member of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union called in students who were on vacation. The teacher gave them brochures for candidates the union supports and told the students to ask their parents to vote for the candidates. Teachers are supposed to teach students to abide by the law, but they broke it.
It is ugly when the election for an education superintendent becomes a battleground between the ruling and opposition parties. The National Election Commission says that political parties must not support a certain candidate or take part in campaigning. However, the Grand National Party and the Democratic Party are intervening in the election, directly or indirectly. Jou Kyong-bok, a liberal candidate, visited the office of the GNP and demanded that the party stop intervening. Kong Jung-tack, a conservative candidate, released a statement, protesting that the DP ignores the principle that education should remain neutral.
The direct election for the education superintendent was introduced in order to enhance autonomy in local education districts. The purpose was to let residents, the consumers of education, elect the superintendent directly to better reflect their opinions in education.
Another intention was to reduce bribery and factional fighting, the negative side effects of indirect elections of school steering committees. However, the purpose and meaning of the direct election will be tarnished if illegal acts and corruption go too far. The candidates and political parties must keep the election fair.
Candidates must end illegal campaigning by, for instance, making indirect contacts with voters through teachers. They should not make mistakes that would make voters lose interest in an election they already hardly care about.
Instead, they should compete in a fair way. Voters must look at their pledges carefully and also check to see if candidates are campaigning illegally.