Korean Teachers Released from Jail
Plan Overnight Vigil at Ministry of Education
By Greg Moses
Twenty-five teachers from the Korean Teachers and Education Worker’s Union (KTU), who were just released from jail Thursday evening, are planning to resume their protest Saturday with an overnight vigil near the Ministry of Education (MOE), says a KTU source, who was reached by telephone at the union’s headquarters in Seoul.
The teachers were arrested Tuesday evening at 10 p.m. as they were gathered at the MOE to press their demands for specified teaching hours and private school reform, said Kim Yong-Kook. But they were released Thursday evening, since Korean law only allowed the police to hold them for 48 hours.
According to Korean law, teachers have a right to establish a trade union and engage in collective bargaining, Kim explained. But they do not have the right to strike.
“A gathering in front of the education ministry is kind of a strike,” said Kim. “So it is illegal.”
Kim described Saturday’s plans as a “national gathering” of teachers, anticipating perhaps 1,000 to attend. They plan to sleep outdoors, near the ministry.
“It’s kind of illegal,” said Kim with a chuckle, “but it is our right.”
The union is asking that guidelines for hours of teaching be placed into law. Currently, said Kim, primary school teachers are in the classroom for 30 hours per week, which does not give them enough time to prepare lessons or assess student work. The union is asking that classroom hours for elementary teachers be reduced to 16 per week.
In middle school and high school, the union is asking that classroom hours be set at 18 per week. Currently, middle school teachers work 22-25 hours in the classroom, while high school teachers sometimes work as many as 20, said Kim.
On the issue of private schools, the union is concerned that private school administrators who steal education funds have been allowed to resume their administrative duties.
The KTU has been teaching anti-war classes this week in commemoration of the funeral for Kim Sun-il, a translator who was killed last week in Iraq.
Korean unions have taken a defiant stand against further troop deployments. And Kim said teachers have joined the anti-war protests in large numbers.
“When teachers go to anti-war rallies as citizens, there is no problem with the law,” said Kim. “But when we gather as teachers to make demands on the ministry, then there is a problem.”