Seoul superintendent, others also up for vote

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Seoul superintendent, others also up for vote

Alongside the presidential elections, key by-elections for the vacant positions of superintendent of the Seoul Education Office and governor of South Gyeongsang will be held today.

Four candidates, Moon Yong-lin, Lee Su-ho, Choi Myung-bok and Nam Seung-hee, are up for the position left vacant by former Seoul Education superintendent Kwak No-hyun who was sentenced to jail for bribery.

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.

Over 27 months, former Seoul education chief Kwak advocated controversial education polices, including a student bill of rights which abolished corporal punishment and free lunches for all students. Kwak’s replacement will serve what remains of the four-year term, about a year and a half.

The Seoul Education Office has a budget of 7.6 trillion won for next year and supervises 1.26 million students in 2,206 kindergarten, elementary, middle and high schools in the city.

With neck-to-neck approval ratings at around 20 percent approval each, the competition is expected down to boil down to a race between conservative Moon, former Minister of Education, Science and Technology, and liberal Lee, former president of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union.

The two minor candidates, Choi, a representative in the Seoul Metropolitan Council’s Education Committee, and Nam, a former Seoul city education official, are both considered right-leaning. Last week, minor conservative candidate Rhee Sang-myon, a Seoul National University professor, stepped down from the race to endorse Moon.

Moon, a Seoul National University professor emeritus, stated, “The Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union is making schools politicized. I will protect students from external influences.”

Lee countered, “The Teachers and Education Workers’ Union which is dedicated to true education should not be simply categorized as an impure influence.”

The left-leaning teacher’s organization on Friday elected a new hardline chief who is pushing for a dramatic departure from education policies implemented by the Lee Myung-bak administration, including elimination of the nationwide standard scholastic aptitude test and special-purpose schools.

In his campaign pledge, Lee vowed to improve upon the policies of former superintendent Kwak such as the free school lunches, cracking down on private academies and abolishing the aptitude tests.

Moon supports getting rid of examinations in the first year of middle school but backs the national scholastic aptitude tests and autonomous schools introduced by the Lee administration.

By Sarah Kim []
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