Subject : Teachers'' union seeks to restore links with parents, students

DATE. 2009-06-02 오후 10:00:00 Visit. 1768

A major teachers'' organization, which marks its 20th anniversary tomorrow, has vowed to repair its relationship with students and parents.

Members of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers'' Union held a ceremony in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Saturday to celebrate the anniversary in advance.

The move was a step away from the political direction it has taken in recent years.

During a 20-year struggle with the government, the union has tried to improve education systems in general and tighting for democracy, said Um Min-yong, the KTEWU spokesman.

"As we look back on our history, we feel that now is the time to regain our initial focus on students and the actual contents of education," said Um.

The union''s initial intention was to "democratize Korean education," which it said had incorporated ideas left over from the Japanese colonial period and past authoritarian governments of Korea.

However, its efforts were usually suppressed by the government during its first 10 years, and more than 1,500 of its members were forced to leave their teaching posts.

The union was not even recognized as legal by the National Assembly until 1999, when it passed a bill on the teachers'' union.

"The union was then given room to concentrate on the problems existing in the reality of Korean schools," said Um. "We especially focused on eliminating the unnecessary authoritarianism in school culture and realizing a clean and open education (system)."

The KTEWU successfully brought up old issues such as corporal punishment and hair restrictions, aiming to promote the rights of students.

They also made a favorable impression on parents by leading campaigns to eradicate bribery, Um said.

However, the organization began to fall out of favor as it grew in size and became more political.

The public began to regard the KTEWU as a progressive political group that only acted in its own interests, particularly when the union collectively struggled in 2006 against the teachers'' evaluation system.

The present Lee Myung-bak government''s emphasis on free competition, which conflicted with the general directions pursued by the KTEWU, further stirred the conflict, Um said.

"The education policies of the Lee administration were mostly based on excessive competition and clearly challenged the spirit of equitable and liberal education," said Um.

Lee''s policies included the reinforcement of English education in public schools and the self-regulation of high schools and university entrance procedures.

"We do not expect to overcome such clear conflicts in the near future, unless the administration decides to totally reverse its present direction," Um said.

The union, nevertheless, will waste less effort in confronting the government in overall education policy and focus more on the everyday life and culture in the schools, he said.

"Our long-term goal is to restore lines of communication with students and parents, which has long been neglected amid the antigovernment struggles," he said.

"Though we will not give up on moves toward educational democracy, we will try further to fulfill our basic roles in our everyday teaching posts."

By Bae Hyun-jung