Conservatives make gains in elections for local education chiefs

SEOUL– Conservatives made big gains in Wednesday’s elections for local superintendents of education, giving a boost to President Yoon Suk-yeol’s drive to improve public education by enhancing competition, diversity and school autonomy.

Out of the 17 elections for top regional educational officials, progressive and liberal candidates won in nine, including Seoul, Incheon and Sejong. Conservatives took eight constituencies, including Gyeonggi Province, Busan and Daegu.

The votes were held concurrently with nationwide elections for local administrative and legislative posts, in which the conservative ruling People Power Party won a resounding victory.

Progressives will still hold more than half of the top regional educational posts, but their dominance waned from 13 in 2014 and 14 in the last elections in 2018.

In Seoul, incumbent Cho Hee-yeon beat his conservative rivals to win a third term. The former sociology professor is one of the staunchest champions of equal education and has led efforts to abolish elite high schools.

Three other progressive superintendents in Sejong, South Chungcheong Province and South Gyeongsang Province were also elected for a third term.

Among the most prominent superintendent-elects are Yim Tae-hee, a former three-term lawmaker and presidential chief of staff, who was elected In Gyeonggi, ending an eight-year reign by two progressive education czars.

The increased presence of conservatives is expected to add momentum to Yoon’s educational policies.

Yoon has vowed to raise the quality of public education by enhancing school exams, preserving elite high schools, and allowing for more diversity and autonomy of schools.

Conservative superintendent candidates pledged to reverse some of the Moon Jae-in administration’s egalitarian educational policies, which they said resulted in an overall decline in students’ academic ability.

They are opposed to progressives’ drive to transform elite institutions, including “autonomous private high schools,” into ordinary schools.

Many of them also vowed to alter the previous government’s plan to introduce a credit system to high schools, aimed at increasing students’ curriculum choices.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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