Questions arise over scope of a post reborn

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Questions arise over scope of a post reborn

Among the list of seven nominees under President Park Geun-hye’s cabinet reshuffle yesterday, a great deal of attention was paid to the nominee for education minister due to the wide scope of the position.

If approved at a confirmation hearing, Kim Myung-soo, an education professor at Korea National University of Education, will double as the deputy prime minister for educational, social and cultural affairs, a newly created post devoted to the implementation of a broader agenda for those sectors.

That official will also serve as the primary liaison between the prime minister and ministers in charge of cultural and societal issues and engage in implementing follow-up social measures in response to the Sewol ferry disaster, Korea’s worst maritime disaster that claimed nearly 300 lives.

Former President Kim Dae-jung appointed a deputy prime minister for educational, social and cultural affairs in 2001, though the post was eliminated during the Lee Myung-bak administration.

Given the breadth of both jobs and the political climate, Kim would likely face an uphill battle in each role. As the deputy prime minister, Kim would be required to oversee cultural and social affairs on top of education agendas and report major issues to the prime minister.

Following the ferry disaster and the government’s poor handling of the accident, President Park Geun-hye emphasized the responsibility of high-ranking officials. She expressed the need to create the deputy prime minister position on Tuesday during the cabinet meeting.

“I’d like to have a deputy prime minister for cultural, educational and social affairs so that the decision-making can be done with increased efficiency and responsibility,” she said. “We have a finance minister who assumes the double post as deputy prime minister in order to oversee economic issues, and when it comes to security, foreign affairs and defense issues, the head of the National Security Office is serving as an authority. But we don’t have such a post for the areas related to culture, education and society.”

However, some voiced concerns over Park’s decision. “If the education minister has to cover such a wide range of issues, the minister cannot concentrate on education issues,” the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Association, a conservative education organization, said in a statement. “The double position will hamper the education minister from effectively carrying out education reforms.”

The Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union, a liberal-leaning entity, also opposed the decision for the same reason.

Others have pointed out that the new deputy prime minister position could merely become ceremonial, as Kim would not have the authority to determine the budget or human resources. The existing deputy prime minister and minister of strategy and finance is entitled to outline budget plans.

“If one wants to carry out responsibility, that person needs to have comparable authority in the first place,” said Choi Chang-ryeol, a political science professor at Yongin University.

“The position requires significant knowledge and expertise in seemingly different fields such as social welfare, culture as well as education,” he added. “I think only a few have such a wide base of knowledge.”

But Kim appeared to brush those worries aside.

“I know there are some issues and concerns,” he said, “but I think I can work on the issues and mediate positions between ministers.”

As education minister, first and foremost he would have to confront the batch of liberal superintendent candidates who won a landslide victory in the June 4 local elections. The liberal-minded superintendents, who secured 13 seats out of 17, pledged to make concerted efforts to push forward progressive education policies.

Major policies championed by the liberal side include building schools that emphasize character building and creativity, and abolishing or downsizing expensive self-governing private high schools and foreign-language high schools, which they consider elitist. Those ideas conflict with that of the conservative Park administration.

But the most contentious issue is expected to be the content of history books. Kim publicly stated on several occasions that current history textbooks were left-leaning and were in need of correction.

Under the joint pledge, the liberal superintendent-elects vowed to keep pushing for what they consider the most accurate views of history.

As for claims that he is a conservative educator, Kim countered by emphasizing that he was “a balanced conservative.”

The 66-year-old Kim studied education at Seoul National University and began his career as a middle school teacher in 1975. He also serves as president of the Korean Educational Research Association.

BY park eun-jee []

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