Breaching trustSeoul’s education chief, Kong Jeong-taek, was indicted without detention on charges of raising illegal funds during the country’s first-ever direct election of education superintendents in July. His defeated rival, Jou Kyong-bok, suspected of pocketing slush funds from the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, will also face the court.
What should have been celebrated as the people’s first direct choice of someone to be in charge of their children’s education was tainted with bellicose campaigning and then muddied with an investigation and prosecution. The final court outcome awaits, but we unavoidably have to witness an incumbent education superintendent standing trial for unethical illicit acts.
An education superintendent oversees primary, secondary and high school education. Education in his area of responsibility depends heavily on the way the person in the post uses his power. Therefore, that person should be honest and worthy of the trust of students, parents and teachers.
Instead of fulfilling his primary role of tending to the complicated state of the capital region’s education, Kong is dividing his time between the education board and court offices. How can someone who has breached the law teach students to grow as law-abiding citizens?
What’s worse is that last year the superintendent of North Gyeongsang stepped down for receiving bribes involving a boarding house construction project. The education chief of South Chungcheong accepted bribes in return for recruitment favors and retired in disgrace.
These education superintendents have sullied the public’s trust. No wonder the teachers’ union has stepped up calls for its own candidate to fill the post. The latest prosecutor’s investigation showed that the union was deeply involved in the Seoul superintendent election, violating neutrality laws for public officials. If the union-backed candidate had won the July election, he would have inevitably been swayed by the voices of unionist teachers.
The direct vote system was introduced to let people choose their own education chief. But the entire idea is useless if illegal campaigning continues. We now see politicians wanting to choose superintendent candidates as running mates in local elections.
Instead of trying to save its hard-won direct election, education circles should focus on restoring the people’s trust. If people lose faith in the education chief, public education has no future.