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[Opinion] Performance-based Teacher Incentives

Posted November. 26, 2008 03:10,   


Public schools this year have received performance-based incentives amounting to 1.08 trillion won (714 million U.S. dollars). Each school distributed the money depending on its own principles. One school categorized its teachers into three groups depending on period of employment. When certain teachers worked for the same period, their grades were determined by salary class. Other teachers in the same salary class, however, had their grades determined by date of birth. Moreover, when a school paid out performance-based incentives, around 80 percent of teachers pooled the incentives and divided them evenly. In another school categorizing teachers depending on when a teacher began teaching at the school, around 90 percent of teachers agreed to pool the incentives and divide them evenly.

Branches of the Korea Teachers and Education Workers Union have urged teachers to use the incentives as a financial resource to wage an anti-incentive campaign against the government. In the union`s Gwangju branch, members agreed to donate 50,000 won per teacher to establish an educational foundation to prevent disparity in education. The members of the union`s Busan branch agreed to donate 50,000-100,000 won per teacher to set up a fund to help the underprivileged. Those in Incheon and North Gyeongsang Province will each give 100,000 won and those in South Gyeongsang Province, South Jeolla Province and the Chungcheong provinces will each donate 20,000-100,000 won to fight the government. The union says its conflict reflects the self-respect and unyielding will of teachers to correct the erroneously implemented incentive system.

The incentive system was introduced seven years ago, but the union`s systematic conflict has stood in the way of promoting the system. The system is now a factor intensifying discord among teachers instead of being a tool to improve educational quality via sound competition among teachers. Even principals are being forced to embrace the teachers` demand to categorize teachers based on unreasonable standards. Given that certain principals and vice principals at private schools received a "B" grade last year, all blame should not be placed on the teachers` union.

The Education, Science and Technology Ministry is also responsible in that it allows each school to distribute the incentives based on its own standards. It suggested around 30 standards such as school hours and counseling for students. Only a few schools, however, have honored the ministry`s suggestions. The teachers` union had long argued that the incentive system will turn into a new system to assess teacher performance and urged teachers to give the money back. The union, however, has instead encouraged division of the incentives money evenly. Teachers belonging to the union cannot differentiate the incentives from the money pooled to pay for dinner. It is better to withdraw all the incentives. Education offices in each city and province now just turn a blind eye to this instead of performing strict supervision. The quality of education cannot be upgraded without strengthening teacher competitiveness.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)