Progressive candidates made strides in nationwide elections for local educational chiefs Wednesday, signaling a major change in school policies toward a more egalitarian education.
Cho Hi-yeon, once considered the outsider in the race for Seoul education superintendent, headed for an upset victory as a bitter family feud wrecked the campaign of his conservative rival, early results showed.
According to exit polls and early results, liberals took the lead in 11 of 17 cities and provinces across the country.
The apparent victory by Cho, a former professor of sociology at Sungkonghoe University, came as a shock to many across the country. In the early opinion polls, his approval rating was a meager 4-8 percent, far behind Moon and Koh whose ratings ranged from 15 to 30 percent.
Koh, a former lawyer and lawmaker, jumped out as the early leader and maintained his lead throughout the monthlong campaign period.
Last Saturday, however, the tables were turned after Koh’s estranged daughter Candy publicly bashed her father on Facebook for paying no heed to his children’s upbringing. She said that Koh was “unqualified” to be the capital’s education chief.
Moon ― who was second in terms of approval rating ― jumped on Koh and called him “immoral and irresponsible,” even comparing him to the captain of the Sewol who fled as his sinking vessel claimed over 200 lives on April 16. Koh responded by accusing Moon of masterminding his daughter’s revelation.
Although Candy’s accusation swayed public opinion against her father, few expected Cho’s victory. He was at least 4 percentage points behind his conservative rivals in the most recent opinion polls.
It seems, however, the Koh family debacle had led liberal and politically neutral voters to turn away from Koh. Until Saturday, he enjoyed just as much support from liberal voters as Cho, but the recent fiasco appears to have cost him their support.
Given that Moon had positioned himself firmly as an ultraconservative candidate and vowed to eradicate “leftist teachers in education,” it is likely much of the undecided liberal votes ended up voting for Cho.
Unlike Koh, Cho received help from his family. One of Cho’s sons wrote a letter to citizens of Seoul about how his father devoted himself to helping the socially disadvantaged.
On the contrary, Koh’s daughter showed bitter indifference to his tearful public apology, simply saying: “Oh, my.” The stark contrast between the candidates may have led to Koh’s demise.
With Cho taking charge of education, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education is expected to undergo a series of changes.
Cho has vowed to build on the existing “innovative school” program that designates a select few schools to pursue new ways of learning. The program was introduced by left-leaning former Education Superintendent Kwak No-hyun, and was criticized by the conservatives for being ineffective and costly.
He also said he would provide equal education opportunities. Cho said he would gradually abolish autonomous private high schools, de facto elite schools that are granted much more leeway in their curriculum in exchange for not receiving government funds.
Another of Cho’s key pledges is educational welfare. He promised to expand the existing free lunch and education programs to ensure all students are able to study well, regardless of their financial situation.
Cho said he would work with reelected Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon to gradually transform Korea into a “welfare state,” a society that sets its citizens’ pursuit of happiness and welfare as the primary goal.
Cho and Park are longtime companions, working together as civil rights activists for over two decades. The two were among the founding members of the nonprofit watchdog People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)