Students’ interest come first
The education field is mired in conflict and confusion as the new school year begins. The education ministry and liberal education superintendents clash over various issues ranging from budgeting for the Nuri Program, a childcare initiative to finance free day-care for toddlers, to the distribution of booklets which contain the name of people and groups loyal to the Japanese colonial and imperial governments.
Differences over returning former full-time workers of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union to schools following the appellate court’s ruling outlawing the progressive teachers union and punishing teachers who joined anti-government protest, also deepened fissures between the central government and pro-union education chiefs. Superintendents are raising their voices against Education Minister Lee Joon-sik for his failure to resolve differences and return order to the education field. A set of reforms and policies may end up deepening the division among teachers and educators.
The heads of middle and high schools in Seoul issued a statement against the Seoul Metropolitan Education Office’s order for 583 schools to purchase a booklet on pro-Japanese figures and groups. They claimed the order undermines the free rights of schools, parents, and teachers. They argued that ideological rationale must not apply to school policy and that schools must be free to decide whether to buy the booklet. The Seoul education office claims the purchase of the booklet has been approved through budgeting by the city council, while the education ministry threatened to question the legitimacy in choosing and distributing the booklet.
The showdown over the teachers’ union is worse. The education ministry warned that teachers working full time at the union could be dismissed if they do not comply with the court order to return to their schools now that the group has become outlawed. The government also brought charges against 14 superintendents for failing to punish the teachers who joined the anti-government protest. As with the contentious Nuri Program, the education ministry stubbornly keeps to the principle, while education chiefs are led by ideological judgment.
The rights and interests of students and parents have no room in the dispute. Due to a lack of budget, day-care centers are shutting down and parents are suddenly without daycare support. Education authorities must join forces at times like these. If both parties place the interests of students and children first, they could bring an end to the conflict.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 5, Page 26