Seoul’s top education hopefuls put in last spurt
By Kang Shin-who
Five days ahead of the June 2 local elections, top educator hopefuls in Seoul City are striving to garner every single vote. Currently, seven candidates are challenging for the top education post, which manages 6.8 trillion won ($5.3 billion) annually and decides education policy affecting more than 77,000 teachers as well as 1.4 million students at kindergarten, primary and secondary schools in the capital.
Education superintendents, called "little education presidents," determine critical matters including the establishment of new schools, changes in admission methods and school curricula.
Now, a united progressive top education hopeful Kwak No-hyun ― candidate No.6 ― is confronted with six conservative candidates, who have failed to agree on a single aspirant.
Kwak is using green for his campaign, which symbolizes main opposition Democratic Party, while the six other candidates are using blue in order to identify themselves with the governing Grand National Party, although educators are not allowed to be politically-driven.
According to a recent poll, conducted by the Korea Research Center, candidate Number 1 Lee Won-hee, head of the Korean Federation of Teachers' Associations, is leading other candidates with support of 12.9 percent. His main campaign pledges are to eliminate 10 percent of unqualified teachers and normalize public education, saying many parents want to verify teachers thoroughly as to whether they are competitive or not through assessment programs.
Kwak, the only liberal candidate is next with 7.5 percent. The professor of the Korea National Open University served as a former presidential advisor under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, and vows to institute free meals and cut the student teacher ratio to 25 per class.
Nam Seung-hee, the female candidate designated No.2, is in third place with support of 5.7 percent. Nam, the former education planning director at Seoul Metropolitan Government, is telling parents that she will be a mother-like superintendent. She said she can differentiate herself from male candidates as they were normally involved in corruption cases. Nam also promised to reduce private education costs in order to lighten the financial burden on parents.
Listed as candidate No.3 Kim Sung-dong obtained 3 percent. A former president of the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation, has vowed to introduce English classes for first grade students at elementary schools and strengthen physical education in order to better children's health.
Another female runner, Kim Young-sook, listed as candidate No.4 came next with 2.8 percent. Kim was headmistress of Deoksung Girl's Middle School and is well known for successful after-school programs there. She highlights after-school programs in order to cut down private education costs and normalize public education.
Kwon Young-joon ― candidate No.7 ― is a professor of Kyung Hee University and has gained support of 1.9 percent. He is focusing on introducing programs to prevent juveniles from becoming addicted to Internet games, and rooting out school violence.
Lee Sang-jin (candidate No.5) was bottom in the survey with 1.3 percent. Lee, an education committee member of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, is trying to differentiate himself from other conservative candidates by saying that he has fought against the progressive Korean Teachers Education Workers Union (KTU) for 10 years.
However, the survey results are not accurate enough as more than half of voters responded that they don't know the candidates well. Hence, the hopefuls are focusing more on letting citizens get to know them rather than promoting campaign pledges.
Election analysts see candidates relying heavily on "luck" to win the post due to such a low awareness of them and uncertain voter participation. Little attention and interest in the election raise questions on the efficiency of electing the top educator for cities and provinces.
During the first held last year only 15.4 percent of the eligible citizens cast ballots in Seoul. The voting rate was the second lowest after Busan's 15.35 percent. South Chuncheong and South Jeolla provinces also recorded lows of 17.2 percent and 21 percent, respectively.