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[Opinion] Busan’s Superintendent

Posted February. 02, 2007 06:47,   


Busan, Korea’s second largest city, has pioneered many things, including coffee shops, singing rooms and karaoke. In public education, Busan introduced the first international middle school and the Korea Science Academy, the only school for the gifted children in Korea. It also launched reading programs in every class even before essay tests were introduced in the college admissions process.

On January 14, Busan is expected to take another significant first step in Korean education history. Under the local educational autonomy law revised last year, Busan residents will elect their educational superintendent directly for the first time.

However, the five candidates up for the post are struggling due to their voters’ indifference. Many do not know the fact that Busan will hold a superintendent election. Even if they know, they are only concerned about whether the Election Day will be a holiday or not. The candidates complain that they are left to explain changes in the election system, never mind their educational philosophy and campaign pledges.

After it was announced that the Election Day would not be a holiday, people paid even less attention to the election.

Such indifference has been somewhat expected given that Korea’s educational autonomy has not developed like it has in the U.S. and Japan. But the lack of interest is not representative of Korea’s strong zeal for education, which is widely known. Though Korean parents spend much money on educating their children and bear the hardship of being separated families, sending their kids overseas for study, they fail to pay much attention to “what kind of education system should be established for their community.” Their enthusiasm for education seems to be “narrowly selfish,” rather than “broadly selfish.”

You might be wrong if you think ‘Is the superintendent important enough to hold an election for?’ The Busan superintendent has the power to spend a 2.2 trillion won budget and to appoint more than 30,000 teachers. Moreover, it is up to the superintendent to lay the educational foundation for Busan. And he will also decide on how to develop student personality, how to improve learning ability, whether to introduce special high schools, whether to strengthen vocational high schools, and how to run the school meal system. Such issues are in the hands of the superintendent. All Koreans should take a closer look at how much power Busan citizens will exert in their upcoming superintendent election, which will be the first step toward an effective educational autonomy.

Chung Sung-hee, Editorial Editor, shchung@donga.com