Irresponsibility in educationKim Sang-kon, head of the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education, is raising the standards for rebellion against the nation’s education authorities. He practically refused to accept the request to punish members of the Korea Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union, who participated in an anti-government protest a few months ago. He insists that those teachers have the right to express their opinions and that punishing them just for protesting against the government is not appropriate. Since trials of the teachers are now under way, he said imposing punitive measures on them even before a final verdict is problematic.
Kim was elected in April with considerable support from the teachers’ union. He was promoting education policies that go against those of the Lee Myung-bak administration. In that regard, it wasn’t entirely unexpected he would clash with the incumbent administration. Even so, however, it is worrisome to see that he is taking a stand against the government over the punishment of the teachers. His insistence that the teachers’ collective action against the government is within their rights makes no sense in the first place. Freedom of expression, according to the Constitution, does not guarantee civil servants the right to carry out illegal political activities and collective actions. Despite the government’s repeated requests in June and July that the teachers not protest against the government, they went ahead. Punishing teachers who are not teaching is natural.
Kim has argued that he cannot punish the teachers before the judiciary makes a final ruling on the case. This is also ignoring the special circumstances surrounding education. Following this position, would it then be so far-fetched to let teachers continue with their classes even after being accused of committing acts of corruption such as bribery and sexual harassment before they are officially convicted?
The Supreme Court has ruled before that civil servants can face punitive measures even if they have not been found guilty or if an investigation on them is under way, as long as there are appropriate reasons for the punishment. There is also a precedent that says civil servants can be punished even if they are found innocent, as long as there are sufficient grounds for action.
Kim’s refusal to punish the teachers involved in anti-government activities is an outright violation of the bill on punishment of civil servants in education and a dereliction of his duty. The education authorities should address Kim’s behavior by either ordering him to comply with the relevant law or mobilizing administrative and financial measures. Autonomy in education does not exist to allow the head of the education office to neglect his responsibilities.