Where teachers belongOn Tuesday, elementary and middle schools nationwide administered the national scholastic achievement assessment (ilje gosa), a standardized aptitude test. Parents opposed to the controversial test, which was reinstated after a 10-year hiatus, sent their children off on field trips instead of to school. The number of students not participating in the test topped 1,000.
The aptitude test fiasco underscores the depth of distrust and discord in Korean education. Parents’ groups that are against standardized testing have taken to the streets in protest and held rallies in front of schools. People who are against the boycott have been injured in all of the pushing and shoving. Moreover, children are too young to be pulled into this kind of boycott and involving them clearly violates their rights.
The Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, KTU, is at the center of the crisis. The union has been against the revival of standardized testing since it was reintroduced last October, arguing that it would intensify competition and increase the reliance on private tutoring. Before Tuesday’s test, the KTU disclosed the names of 145 teachers at schools in Seoul and in Gangwon who opposed the tests. Education authorities have warned that they will punish the teachers for their actions. The union countered that it would reveal more names if the authorities were to take punitive action. It was sending a clear message of opposition to the government.
The tests are aimed at assessing students’ strengths and weaknesses so that educators can design curricula tailored to their needs. The test results show only whether a student is performing at his or her grade level, and the results are given only to the student and his or family.
Unionized teachers are protesting the test because they still believe in having a uniform education system. But educators need some kind of academic assessment system.
The teachers’ union should stop protesting for protest’s sake without offering any alternatives. A teacher’s place is in the classroom, guiding students and imparting knowledge. It is not their place to encourage students to challenge authority. The education authorities should be strict in disciplining teachers who are opposing the test. Public education cannot stand strong if it continues to be shaken by this group of unionized teachers.