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[Op-Ed] Stench of Corruption in Education

Posted January. 23, 2010 09:00,   


The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education’s personnel irregularities are getting uglier. Last month, police officers were called to stop fighting between a man and a woman in their 50s after receiving a phone complaint. When they went to the site, the woman claimed the man took 20 million won (17,452 U.S. dollars) from her in return for helping her pass an exam to become an educational administrator. After an investigation, the man, who was also an education administrator, was arrested. Authorities will expand the probe to the entire process of the examination. The case necessitates surgery of the overall system.

In the past, rumors flew a bribe of 10 million won (8,688 dollars) to become a school principal. Half that amount was reportedly needed to become a deputy principal. Today, the bribe amounts are allegedly three to four times as high as in the past. In one case late last year, a government employee received a mid-size passenger car in return for brokering a school construction project.

Last year, a senior official of the educational office faced a disciplinary committee after found to have omitted 1.4 billion won (1.2 million dollars) in the required disclosure of his personal assets. After he received disciplinary action, he appointed principal of a high school in Seoul’s posh district of Gangnam. People wonder if he was disciplined or promoted.

Personnel irregularities were seen as even more conspicuous when Kong Jeong-taek was superintendent of Seoul public schools. He is under criticism for giving key posts of the office to staff members who supported his election campaign. No wonder the education office ranked lowest in the 2008 anti-corruption survey and third worst in last year`s poll. The education office also ranked the lowest in scholastic achievement in 2008, as 10 percent of middle and high school students failed to meet minimum requirements in scholastic ability. Parents were informed three years ago of a new system allowing students to choose schools. The office, however, suddenly limited the system just one month before it took effect.

Yet certain staff members of the office allegedly formed connections with potential candidates to run in the June election for superintendent. Perhaps the staff in question expect to get promoted in return for their support of a certain candidate. Could it be that employees of the educational office are the only ones who fail to notice the stench of corruption stemming from it?

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)