Landslide, but no endorsementCandidates from the liberal camp and a progressive teachers’ union won a landslide victory in this week’s local education elections, defeating conservatives in 13 of 17 educational administrative jurisdictions. They owed the unprecedented victory largely to parents enraged by the deaths of hundreds of students in the sinking of the Sewol ferry and frustrated by the dismal state of a public education system preoccupied with the fiercely competitive college entrance system. After witnessing the deaths of young students whose lives were cut short during their brief break from stressful school days, parents around the country shared a disgust in the current education system’s obsession with grades and academic performance at the expense of nurturing compassionate, creative and open minds. Their anger toward mainstream administrators, despair and concern for children, and aspirations for change led them to overwhelmingly choose liberals over conservatives as superintendents.
But the winners must remember that their victory does not mean voters support their progressive platforms. In fact, most disagree with their radical ideas.
Education policies are double-edged swords. Conflicting interests exist in all public policies. Liberal superintendents want to do away with expensive private schools that focus on international curriculums designed to get students admitted to elite universities. These schools help expand choices for students and parents and at the same time fuel hierarchic competition among high schools. Yet the Education Ministry’s plan to change the admission system for these elite schools was scrapped due to strong protests from parents. Liberal education chiefs propose to create alternative schools offering curriculums that go beyond courses geared to getting into top colleges. But the liberal sector must listen to its opponents as well. Kwak No-hyun, former liberal education superintendent of Seoul, lost the confidence of teachers because his proposal to institutionalize a students’ rights act caused chaos in the classroom.
The country’s education and school policies have always swayed under new education administrators. Frequent clashes between the Education Ministry and local education administrations also undermined consistency in education policy. The newly elected superintendent for Seoul, Cho Hi-yeon, promised put aside ideology and take the students’ side. He should be true to his word and pursue common interests of students instead of his own agenda.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 6, Page 30