[Editorial] Election of superintendents

By Korea Herald

Direct vote by a limited electorate desirable

  • Published : Jan 7, 2014 - 19:43
  • Updated : Jan 7, 2014 - 19:43
It is understandable that calls have been mounting for the abolition of the direct popular election of educational superintendents in the country. Of the 16 metropolitan and provincial superintendents elected in 2010, nine have been implicated in corruption and other wrongdoings.

With the next vote set to be held in June as part of local polls, civic groups and organizations of teachers and professors are joining the movement to do away with what they see as an inefficient and problematic system.

Turnout for the 2010 superintendent elections was depressingly low, raising the question about the representativeness of elected candidates. To finance expensive electoral campaigns, many candidates were tempted to resort to illegal means. Some progressive superintendents have clashed with Education Ministry officials over disciplinary measures against violent students and politically oriented teachers.

Citing these problems, critics have called for abolishing the direct popular vote and allowing local administrative chiefs to appoint educational superintendents. Some suggest that the president name superintendents with parliamentary approval.

Though the current system certainly needs to be improved, these demands appear somewhat hasty. The adoption of the direct popular vote can be seen to reflect the constitutional values regarding the autonomy and political neutrality of education. It may be too early to discard the system after having directly elected superintendents only once. Some more patience is needed for the system to outgrow its inefficiency and other problems.

Still, it is also certain that the improvement will not be guaranteed without active efforts. In this regard, consideration needs to be given to a proposal by an association of educational organizations to hold direct elections in a more limited way, by giving voting rights only to school parents, teachers and other educational officials.

What complicates the controversy is the measure to relieve superintendent candidates of the requirement that they have at least five years of experience teaching students or handling educational administration.

Revising the law in 2010 to eliminate the qualification in the 2014 elections, the main political parties argued that the measure would allow superintendents with various backgrounds to enhance the diversity and efficiency of educational administration. But the ulterior motive seemed to be to pave the way for some populist politicians to run for the educational post on the back of their public recognition. Political parties are urged to consider restoring the qualification.