[Viewpoint] Back to basics for true education

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[Viewpoint] Back to basics for true education

Two decades ago a majority of teachers launched a new labor federation aimed at making true education a reality for future generations, at the same time unleashing a torrent of criticism about the state of education.

Despite the tough political times, when teaching staff were not allowed to join labor unions, the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union overcame myriad obstacles and hardships to legitimize its own place in society through legislation of the teachers’ union law in 1999.

Although the union faced many challenges at the outset, members acted according to their principles and gained the support of the majority of parents.

The union also created a new sensation within schools and began to play a leading role on the education stage. Against this backdrop, it continued to expand the scope of its activities and influence with the affiliation of many more teaching staff.

However, the steadily rising union has seen a decrease in its numbers as of late, according to recent media reports, as its members get older. Of course, the average age of its members is getting higher, as young teachers under its control become older over time.

Yet it is indeed an inevitable phenomenon that the number of young teachers poised to join the union is decreasing, while existing members have started to withdraw from the organization. The reason for the mini-exodus is that the union has been engaging in activities opposite to its fundamental purpose: the realization of true education.

Early last summer, a series of declarations on the current situation facing the nation aroused public controversy. In the midst of such political discord, the union presented its own views on various political issues despite growing concerns.

Teachers are also citizens of a society and they are entitled to their political views. It is their right to express their views.

However, teaching staff are also deemed public officials in education or enjoy a corresponding level of social status. That’s why the teachers’ union law imposes harsh restrictions on teachers’ political involvement, due to the law’s purport that public servants in education must maintain political neutrality in light of the importance attached to teaching and learning.

In this vein, the teachers’ political declarations should be considered to violate the provisions of the Constitution and other laws.

In addition, the union has continued to be highly engaged in politics, violating its fundamental purpose. Some years ago, a district subdivision of the union fixed a poster advocating North Korea’s military-first politics, and sparked a heated debate. The union’s other branch has been entangled with political strife by producing materials for special conferences and seminars on the need for reunification on the peninsula by transcribing passages from the North’s history books.

But even though the union has claimed that it is not trying to produce its own educational material, we can’t help suspecting that the group is concentrating its attention on engaging in politics with an ideologically leaning perspective.

The union is insisting that its participation in politics will contribute to undertaking reformative measures by offering harsh criticism of actual problems. However, it shows strong opposition to teacher evaluation and is refusing to participate in the movement. This staunch resistance to the evaluations has the ultimate goal of undertaking educational reform, but it seems a contradiction in light of their specific political stances.

A person who is generally rigorous with himself is competent to point out other people’s mistakes and make sweeping criticisms. Teaching staff in education should be stricter with themselves than anyone else. In this context, it is hard to understand union members’ refusal to accept the evaluations.

Education should be implemented as a farsighted policy. In particular, as our future as a nation depends upon how we carry out an educational program for our youth, we can’t emphasize strongly enough the importance of education for future generations.

When the union advocating the realization of true education was launched across the country, it achieved greater public recognition for its enthusiasm and dedicated approach to improving teaching and learning in the country.

In the meantime, the union has made great contributions to the development of what is taught in our classrooms and how curriculums are delivered.

Leaving many merits and demerits behind, the union should go back to the basics and aspire to achieve the realization of true education. This is the only way to revive its original fundamental purpose.

*The writer is a professor at the department of law of Dongguk University.

by Kim Sang-kyum
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