Kim, a professor at Korea National University of Education, is a firm believer in a competition-based education system while the liberals have vowed to push for a more egalitarian education system. Despite the new education chiefs vowing to reduce the roles of elitist schools, he said these schools can ultimately boost the level of the nation’s education.
But the conflict over educational philosophy will be only the first in a string of potential clashes if Kim is approved as the new education minister. He is on collision course with the left over a laundry list of policies, namely the free school lunch program and the legal status of the left-leaning Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union.
The controversial KTU, one of the most outspoken opponents of the Park administration’s education policies, is currently in a legal feud with the government over its legal status. Educational circles have been up in arms over the KTU’s legitimacy, as those widely recognized as “progressives” have been at loggerheads with conservatives over the government’s attempt to label the KTU an illegal group.
Kim, considered one of the most conservative educators in Korea, has said it is “only natural to strip the KTU of its legal status.” He has expressed the belief that teachers should not openly express their political opinions.
“Above all, educational workers should never participate in politics and they should not comment on state policies on education,” he said.
The KTU said nominating Kim went against the people’s expectations. “Kim’s comments that teachers cannot say anything about educational policies reflects his opinions about teachers: that they should just obey their superiors and do as instructed,” the group said in a statement.
Many of the newly elected education superintendents ― liberals took 13 of 17 cities and provinces in the June 4 local elections, including the key city of Seoul ― have made it clear that they will protect the KTU, with eight of them being former members of the group.
The conflict over politically motivated comments by teachers is expected to further damage the relationship between the Education Ministry and provincial education offices. The ministry recently called for punishment of 43 teachers who demanded that Park take responsibility for the Sewol sinking and step down, but many of the newly elected superintendents said they should not be punished for expressing their own opinions.
If Kim’s appointment is finalized, he is widely expected to trade barbs with progressives over free lunch programs and the students’ rights ordinance, which he has fiercely criticized.
Kim also said that the so-called “leftists” have shaped history education in Korea in a way that “threatens the identity of Korea.” The comment came as a majority of students and schools rejected a controversial history textbook by Kyohak Publishing Co., which some scholars said was substandard in quality and politically biased.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)