Liberal Lee Su-ho to vie for Seoul superintendent

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Liberal Lee Su-ho to vie for Seoul superintendent

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Moon Yong-lin and Lee Su-ho


With just over a month left until the by-election for Seoul education chief, liberals announced yesterday that Lee Su-ho will act as their sole contender for the currently vacant position of superintendent of Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. Lee Su-ho is a former Korean language high school teacher and head of a teachers’ union,

The 63-year-old former president of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union will compete against single conservative candidate Moon Yong-lin.

Moon Yong-lin, 65, is a Seoul National University professor emeritus and former minister of education, science and technology. The two candidates will clash on Dec. 19 in a by-election which coincides with the presidential election.

“I will relentlessly push for educational reform in Seoul regardless of any external coercion,” stated Lee at a press conference yesterday to announce his candidacy at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul. He outlined policies similar to the controversial former superintendent, liberal Kwak No-hyun.

The position of Seoul Office of Education chief is currently vacant after Kwak was sentenced in September to a year in prison on charges of paying out 200 million won ($179,000) to his opponent to drop out of the race in the June 2010 election.

“If I am elected, I will phase out autonomous private high schools and convert them into regular high schools,” added Lee.

The Lee Myung-bak administration in 2009 introduced autonomous high schools, which are outside the lottery system that assigns most students to schools and can choose students on their own admission standards. The idea was to diversify schools and also allow students to choose schools outside their district, but the system has faced criticism and 11 of the 26 autonomous schools in Seoul didn’t meet enrollment quota. Moon supports the system. A former high school teacher, Lee was dismissed from his job in 1989 for his leadership role in establishing the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union, the first nationwide teachers’ union. Lee was elected late Tuesday, beating out four other liberal candidates including Lee Bu-young, also former head of the union for educators, and Kim Yun-ha, international economics professor at Hanshin University.

Over 27 months, former Seoul education chief Kwak advocated controversial education polices such as a student bill of rights which abolished corporal punishment, allowed students freedom of dress code and enabled students to rally on campus.

He also pushed for free lunches for all students and founding so-called “innovative schools,” a new kind of public school that focuses on debate-centered classes and extracurricular activities.

Kwak’s replacement will serve what remains of the four-year term, about a year and a half.

With a 10-day head start, Moon selected as sole conservative contender on Nov. 2, outlined his educational vision earlier this week, stating he would eliminate examinations in the first year of middle school and expand teachers’ rights and status if he is elected. Kwak’s student rights ordinance was criticized by faculty for undermining teacher authority. Lee expressed that if he becomes Seoul superintendent he will push for the abolishment of scholastic achievement tests which forces schools to be rank-focused.

By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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