The vanishing electionOn Dec. 19, the day of the presidential election, another important by-election takes place: the choice of the head of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. The education superintendent wields enormous power in administering elementary, middle and high schools in the capital, controlling more than 7 trillion won ($6.3 billion) in annual budget and the management of more than 80,000 teachers.
However, voters barely know who is running in this significant race. The superintendent election is obviously overshadowed by the presidential election, but a critical lack of concern by the public mostly stems from the exclusiveness of the election. Simply put, there are not many who can meet the fastidious qualifications. A candidate must have been a teacher or education official for at least five years and also not belong to a political party. As a result, the superintendent election has turned into an exclusive competition among candidates whose names are not known to voters.
Some of those who announced bids for the post are bent on gathering support by identifying themselves as conservative or liberal or pro-Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union. One can hardly find pledges for solutions to an array of problems like the overly competitive college admission tests and the worrying violence in schools.
Instead, candidates are absorbed in dividing their opponents into groups supporting and opposing Kwak No-hyun without presenting fresh ideas for better education services. Kwak is behind bars for bribing his rival in the last race to drop out of the election in 2010. Now, an utterly lamentable phenomenon is happening: The conservative camp is demanding a merge of groups trying to unify a number of candidates in the rightist camp.
Voters want to know about candidates’ knowledge and expertise in addressing tough education issues, not their ideological or political affiliations. Citizens demand they demonstrate wisdom to provide more benefits to students through constructive criticism and cooperation with the government rather than picking fights and triggering chaotic confusion.
We hope the election culture changes so competent candidates can be elected. Consistency in education policies will never come about until we get a new election method based on a running mate system with mayoral and gubernatorial candidates.