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Teachers Union Threatens to Hamper School Autonomy

Posted April. 17, 2008 04:48,   


The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology plans to abolish 29 regulations, including classes for students of different academic levels, early-morning and after-school classes, and greater autonomy for schools. However, this will be difficult to implement because of a collective bargaining agreement between education authorities in cities and provinces, and the teachers’ labor union, which is opposed to the reforms. In particular, the teachers’ union intends to prevent educational authorities and principals from having excessive power by sticking to the existing agreement during renegotiations. This can cause conflict.

▽ Collective bargaining agreement: An obstacle to greater autonomy

By analyzing the collective agreements made by 16 educational offices and branches of the teachers’ union, the Dong-A Ilbo found that it limits various forms of after-school curriculum, and bans early-morning classes, overall academic achievement evaluations and classes based on individual capability.

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has never revised the collective agreement it made with the Seoul branch of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) and the Seoul chapter of the Korean Union of Teaching and Education Workers in May 2004.

According to Article 23, Clause 3 and 4, middle schools can provide extracurricular education only for after-school classes, which are banned from teaching subjects such as English or mathematics.

The Education Ministry is planning to revise related laws in order to transfer the authority of school evaluations from the minister to the head of local education offices. However, as Item 1, Clause 38 of the agreement stipulates, evaluation of academic performance shall be conducted on selected schools, making it difficult to perform evaluations properly.

This is why the Seoul Metropolitan Council adopted a resolution urging a renegotiation of the agreement in February, citing that there were many points that could hamper the autonomy of schools.

The principal of a high school in Seoul complained, “The agreement is like saying that you have to get approval from the teacher’s union on education policies.” The principal added, “A wrong agreement should be rectified.”

Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education bans early-morning classes, supplementary classes at middle schools and mandatory self-study sessions after 10 p.m. at high schools.

The Incheon Metropolitan Office of Education and the Ulsan Metropolitan Office of Education prohibit classes based on individual academic levels of high school students.

Also, the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education made it clear that mock tests at high schools shall be organized only by the office, banning mock tests organized by other entities.

Middle and high school officers are demanding a quick resolution of the situation, saying, “Local education offices should promptly conclude their guidelines regarding the government’s policies to increase school autonomy, in order to spare schools and parents further confusion.”

▽ Teachers` union sticks to existing agreement

The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said, “The agreement made in 2004 is in effect invalid,” adding, “Negotiations to revise the agreement are now underway. We will not allow the agreement to serve as an obstacle to the autonomy of local education authorities and schools.”

However, the teachers` union said, “From a legal perspective, the agreement supercedes the Education Ministry’s guidelines.” The union added, “We will never make a concession on the current clauses at the renegotiations.”

Hyeon In-cheol, spokesman for the teachers` union, said, “If education offices violate the agreement and move forward with unreasonable policies, we will consider filing a lawsuit against the heads of the education offices for violations of the labor law.”