‘Nation builders’? Not so muchIt is no secret that U.S. President Barack Obama is a fan of the Korean education system. He again cited Korean education in his State of Union address to inspire bipartisan and national endeavors to rebuild the country through education and innovation.
“In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders.’ Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect,” he said urging young people contemplating career choices to become a teacher to contribute in making a difference in the life of a child and the nation.
It was a heartfelt plea from the president to raise standards and competitiveness of a generation at a “Sputnik” moment amid the waning American status on the global stage.
But here on the other side of the Pacific, we cannot comfortably nod at the president’s reference to Korean teachers.
Do they really have respect and are they worthy of the accolade as “nation builders?’
Take, for example, some of the members of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union.
The Seoul Central District Court earlier this week came down with guilty verdicts on the teachers, including the former head, for violating laws banning public officials from political activities by making donations to the opposition Democratic Labor Party. Some 130 teachers were fined.
Teachers do not merely deliver knowledge, but act as role models for their students.
It is a serious crime, the court said, for teachers with such a role to disregard the duty of political neutrality defined by the Constitution that serves as the foundation of the country.
They can hardly fit into the description of “nation builder.”
Most teachers neither have the pride nor the respect of “nation builder.” More than half of teachers nationwide said they were discontent with their profession and were thinking of changing jobs.
More than 80 percent of teachers aged over 50 are contemplating early retirement. The dwindling authority of teachers was their biggest reason for losing interest in their jobs.
With such absence of passion, we can hardly expect quality education in classrooms.
A teacher’s devotion comes from the pride and the sense of duty and that can come from being respected by society.
We must all work to restore teachers’ honor as “nation builder.”