Superintendent’s fresh startMoon Yong-lin, the newly elected superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, immediately reported to work. He replaces the former left-leaning education chief, Kwak No-hyun, who was sentenced for a bribery scandal, after beating his liberal opponent in all 25 electoral districts in Seoul.
Conservatives formed an unprecedented united front behind the former education minister to prevent Lee Su-ho, former head of the left-leaning Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union, from taking the election. Voters came out in full force because of the simultaneous presidential election.
The broad support for Moon underscores Seoulites’ concerns and resistance to the radical education policies and reforms pushed by the liberal camp.
The former left-leaning education chief clashed with education authorities by unilaterally pursuing controversial policies like a student bill of rights promoting freedom in the dress code and the abolition of corporal punishment.
Kwak also defied city policies by expanding the free school lunch program to include all students, leading to complaints over the poor quality of school meals and the costly upgrades in school facilities. Seoul ran out of funding for the welfare program.
In his inauguration speech, Moon promised to restore normalcy to citywide education. He should first fix the student rights bill that prevents teachers from enforcing school rules. He needs to improve the budget in order to pursue necessary repairs and upgrades in school heating systems and other facilities.
However, he should refrain from going to the extreme right. Moon still needs cooperation from the city council, which is dominated by the main opposition Democratic United Party, for budgeting and making policy for the next 18 months. He should initiate dialogue with the liberal council if he wants to carry out the moderate changes he pledged to voters.
Moon will inevitably cause confusion in the city education office and classrooms. He must remember that teachers, students and parents have already experienced conflict and unrest under liberal superintendent Kwak.
He should bow lower to teachers, parents and students, and hear out their voices and needs. The city education authority, government and schools need to consult with one another and maintain close relations in order to minimize confusion and protest from both students and teachers.