Union: Teachers should have right to politics

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Union: Teachers should have right to politics

Elementary, middle and high school teachers need a revised law to allow for their participation in politics, said Ahn Yang-ok, the president of the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association, at a press conference yesterday marking his 100th day as president. Ahn’s comments have caused conflict with the central government.

The current law prohibits teachers from engaging in any kind of political campaign or joining a political party because educators in Korea are considered civil servants.

In 2001, KFTA requested the right for its members to take part in political activities, but was denied.

“Politicians control many education policies, even though they are not educators,” Ahn said. “We teachers need to build up our own political power to confront [them].”

The 180,000-member association was started in 1947 as the largest legal group of teachers in Korea.

Although the association is supposed to protect teachers’ rights and authority, its pro-government policies have caused many members to leave the association, especially if they agree with the more liberal Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, which was created in 1989.

The conservative KFTA criticized the free-lunch policy, a significant policy of liberal superintendents, saying it was devised out of populism.

“Some schools in the Seoul and Gyeonggi area, where the opposite party pursues the free-lunch policy, are forced to arrange lunches [beyond their financial capability],” Ahn said. “It shows how politicians dominate education.

“We are thinking about supporting candidates who agree with teachers’ political participation, for the next election. But we will be careful about engaging in political campaigns for the election, so that we do not break election laws.”

Ahn noted the case of the United States in supporting his demand.

“We should remember that [United States] President Barack Obama was elected with the help of teachers’ associations,” Ahn said.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology believes the law should not be changed.

“We do not have any reason [to allow political-participation rights] because the Constitutional Court has already decided to restrict the range of teachers’ participation in politics,” said Jeon Jin-seok, an Education Ministry official.

The controversy, though, is expected to continue, especially since concerns are growing that teachers’ political ideologies could have an impact on students during lectures.


By Park Su-ryon, Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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