A necessary overhaulThe quality of education cannot rise above the quality of teachers. This may be a cliche but it is the truth.
That is why many countries put great effort into improving the quality of their teachers. Teacher quality is at the center of public education reform pursued by Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools in the United States.
Rhee allowed principals of public schools run by nonprofit organizations to fire incompetent teachers, a successful move. Even the media in Washington, D.C. has complimented her on her belief that education thrives when incompetent teachers are let go. Chancellor Rhee is considering allowing principals of other public schools to dismiss teachers. Rhee intends to eventually force all unqualified teachers out of public schools.
In contrast, educational reform to improve teacher quality in Korea has hit a wall. This is because the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union opposes every effort to improve the quality of teaching.
Incentives were introduced to make teachers more competitive but the union sent official letters to its branches instructing members to distribute the incentives equally instead. Under the union’s guidelines, member teachers return the incentives, divide them evenly and redistribute them.
The union has made competitive incentives useless by opposing them for the last seven years. It is as if they do not want to compete and would prefer to continue to teach negligently. This is absurd.
The union has also rejected the implementation of a teachers’ evaluation system which is necessary to improve the quality of education.
Meanwhile, education is suffering. Even a union member and teacher at Changdong High School, in northern Seoul, Lee Ki-jeong, has spoken up. “Education in our schools is even worse than cheap products in the market. Everybody is unhappy with the quality.”
The union needs to improve the quality of teaching. They should listen to member teachers who argue that it needs to embrace the evaluation system and competitive incentives. The union has refused to accept such minority opinions.
The educational authority should no longer be led by the union. Rhee said in a speech recently that there is no conclusion that makes everybody happy. Even if teachers are not satisfied, necessary reform should be carried out, she said. These are words that the educational authorities here should heed.