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Seoul education head candidates’ pledges split politically

From left: Cho Hee-yeon, Cho Jun-hyuk, Park Sun-young and Cho Young-dal, candidates for Seoul’s education superintendent, pose for photos before a TV debate hosted by KBS on May 23. (Joint Press Corps)
From left: Cho Hee-yeon, Cho Jun-hyuk, Park Sun-young and Cho Young-dal, candidates for Seoul’s education superintendent, pose for photos before a TV debate hosted by KBS on May 23. (Joint Press Corps)

The pledges of Seoul’s education superintendent candidates are split according to their political inclinations, despite the rule against candidates revealing their political stances.

With the local election just around the corner, candidates from the conservative bloc are promising to improve students’ academic achievements, attacking the previous administration led by Seoul’s education superintendent, Cho Hee-yeon, who is recognized as a liberal-leaning figure.

The conservative-leaning candidates -- Cho Jun-hyuk, Park Sun-young and Cho Young-dal -- have promised offering better education through evaluating students through exams.

Candidate Cho Jun-hyuk has proposed testing all students on their scholastic ability and allowing only those who meet certain standards to move onto the next grade, though he hasn’t specified the standards. Currently, all students can move up to the next grade as long as they have attended a minimum number of classes.

Candidate Park Sun-young has also proposed testing all students to evaluate their general scholastic ability and offering academic consulting based on the results. She said the results would be used for running afterschool care classes targeting each student’s needs.

Candidate Cho Young-dal has also promised to test students on a regular basis to provide better quality education.

Cho Hee-yeon, considered a liberal-leaning candidate, said he will improve the overall quality of public education, rather than testing students. He has said he is against ranking students based on their scores.

The abolishment of special-purpose high schools is also a hot topic for the liberals and conservatives. There are currently 18 autonomous private high schools in Seoul, which make up 51.4 percent of the total in Korea.

Cho Hee-yeon has stressed that he will continue to push the abolishment of autonomous private high schools and foreign language high schools. Cho has been a strong opponent of specialized private high schools, arguing the schools encourage private education at the primary level.

Conservative-leaning candidates are against their abolishment.

Cho Young-dal argued that the abolishment of such schools will bring down the overall academic achievements of students. His views were echoed by Park Sun-young and Cho Jun-hyuk, who also argued for keeping them.

The high school credit system, which allows students to choose their own classes depending on their desired careers, is also at the center of heated debate. The system, introduced by the previous Moon Jae-in administration, is set to be implemented in 2025.

Candidates Park Sun-young and Cho Jun-hyuk have criticized the policy, highlighting that schools cannot properly support the system in practice. Cho Young-dal is also opposed to the system.

Cho Hee-yeon has said he is for the policy, but that it needs improvement. He also pointed out that the new system can be burdensome to teachers.

Though the candidates for Seoul’s education superintendent post are polarized in many of their pledges, all of them supported expanding public child care services.

Cho Hee-yeon promised to extend child care hours for elementary schools up to 8 p.m.

Park Sun-young said she will establish an institution for child care at a golf course site in Banpo, southern Seoul. The institution will work on systemizing afterschool classes offered by schools.

Cho young-dal announced he would involve parents, civic groups and religious groups to run afterschool child care services, helping teachers to focus on teaching. He has also promised to create a fund worth 1 trillion won ($806 billion) for child care in cooperation with the greater Seoul area.

By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)

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