Teachers Union Has Image Problem
By Kang Shin-who
A series of recent scandals involving its members has forced the progressive Korean Teachers and Education Worker's Union (KTU) to start soul searching and the 20-year-old organization is looking to be reborn through advice from outside professional consultants.
The reform move came after its members were implicated in sex scandals this year.
Early this year one of its member was a victim of sex assault by an executive of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the nation's second largest umbrella union.
KTU officials forced the victim not to raise the issue and attempted to cover up the incident. This cover-up attempt later forced the entire KCTU leadership to resign en masse to take responsibility. In addition, three of its members recently sexually harassed trainee teachers in Anyang City, Gyeonggi Province.
Two decade ago, a group of progressive teachers launched their own union with the aim of reforming the education system in Korea. Their move was quite bold as the nation was under tight authoritarian rule in the 1980s.
The association had been stigmatized as an illegal entity until 1999 when liberal head of state Kim Dae-jung legalized it.
Before they were legalized, more than 1,500 teachers and school staff members were dismissed.
They had campaigned to defend the rights of teachers and promoted the health and well-being of its members. Additionally, it participated in the struggle for democratic social reforms.
These reform-minded young teachers had been worked as a check and balance to ``outdated'' educators who did not want to change the status quo. They played a key role in raising awareness that receiving `white envelopes' from parents was a crime, not a Korean custom. But their pursuit of egalitarianism in education has been a problem to policymakers. The union opposes an objective evaluation of the performance of teachers.
The union opposes the government's education reform plan but has failed to provide an alternative.
Wrongly or not, they had been stereotyped as an outcast group sympathetic to North Korea and anti-American. Since 2003, its membership has been falling.
The union represents 20 percent of total teachers with membership reaching 80,000.
KTU President Chung Jin-hwa told Yonhap Sunday that the group has commissioned three consulting companies to make a report on a future course of the union.
It is the first time that the progressive teachers have planned to reform and revamp the KTU on the basis of outsourced consultation.
``It is shameful and regretful that we were involved in sexual assault incidents,'' Chung said. ``We will thoroughly find out how our organization's culture is hindering gender equality.'' She also admitted that the group has failed to adapt to the changing education environment.
The union leader said that the group will participate in election campaigns of top educators in 16 cities and provinces due next year.
``As the importance of the regional top educators is growing, we will play certain roles for the election,'' she said. Korea plans to have 16 new top educators with a four-year-term from next year for the first time.
The union opposes the education policy of the Lee Myung-bak administration that stresses autonomy and encourages competition among schools and students. The KTU claims that the government policy will further raise private education costs and ignite ``unnecessary'' competition. Especially, they are campaigning against nationwide state-run standardized exams on elementary and secondary school students ― 12 KTU members have been dismissed for refusing to administer the test.