All teachers have the status of national civil servants in Korea, and teacher training is centrally regulated. However, teachers' affairs are delegated to the superintendents at the metropolitan and provincial offices of education. University professors still enjoy the prestige given to teachers traditionally. Although teachers at the precollege level are no longer loved and respected as formerly, they are still considered key to the system's proper functioning.
As part of the goal of excellence in the educational system and to ensure the sense of professionalism and commitment to teaching, licensure under legal criteria is required of graduates of teacher training institutes. Teachers are classified into teachers (first and second level), assistant teachers, professional counselors, librarians, training teachers, and nursing teachers. They must meet specific standards for each category and be licensed by the Minister of Education, as regulated by presidential decree.
Teacher education is offered by universities of education, colleges of education, graduate schools of education, general colleges and universities with departments of education and teaching certificate programs, junior colleges, and the Air and Correspondence University, from which approximately 25,000 teachers are recruited every year. To enhance professionalism in educational leadership, the government established the Korea National University of Education in 1985. This university was designed to conduct research on kindergartens and elementary and secondary schools, as well as to produce an elite corps of dedicated teachers—not only future teachers but also in-service trainees.
Teachers are recruited locally on the basis of apparently rather mechanical selection tests administered by district education authorities. College students concentrate on preparing for these exams rather than studying the subjects they intend to teach or other classroom management skills. OECD reviews have also found no direct links between teachers' expertise and the subjects they teach. Major fields in colleges and universities have not been found to match important subject fields in the secondary school curriculum. In 1995, about 55 percent of all secondary teachers came from universities that were not specifically designed for teacher education (OECD 136).
As attention is increasingly directed toward the quality of education rather than its quantity, general teachers' qualifications have become one of the core issues in Korean education. Many believe the teaching profession suffers from mediocrity and is often unable to cope with the fast-changing society. Lack of professionalism is diagnosed as due to poor training and to the difficulty of recruiting bright young people into the profession, which is little respected in modern Korea. Therefore, the goal of the 1995 Education Reform was to train excellent teachers who could meet the challenges of increasingly assertive students, the information age, globalization, and the changing field itself. The training programs emphasize pedagogy, ethics, and information management ability, as well as class management and counseling skills (MOE).
The PCER thus recommended reforming teach certification and in-service training to encourage lifelong education and initiate diversified, learner-oriented education. The PCER proposed a contract teacher program, increased use of circuit teachers, and diversification and enrichment of in-service training (PCER 1997, 111).
To make space for young talented teachers, the retirement age for teachers was adjusted from 65 to 62 in the fall of 1998. As a result, an estimated 16,000 teachers retired, and the vacancies were filled with new skilled teachers. Superior teachers among those retiring were invited to return to teach with fixed contracts. Many competent teachers with a variety of titles such as lecturers and business school partnership teachers have thus been recruited into the school system as well as teachers with fixed contracts and native speakers for language courses (MOE).
Because most teachers are still very young, in-service training has become an urgent need. Various opportunities and incentives have been offered for those who were retrained. Between March 1997 and February 1998, in spite of the Korean financial crisis, 356,335 teachers underwent in-service training, including 545 who received overseas training.
In higher education, the government sponsors refresher programs abroad, especially in science and technology to help professors keep up with the rapidly changing times. From 1978 to 1998, a total of 106 professors went abroad to do research with government support (MOE).
Another incentive for teachers' dedication and high performance is a merit-based salary system based on the evaluation of individual teachers, which also has direct implications for promotions and various privileges.
Unions & Associations: The Korean Federation of Teachers' Associations (KFTA) is an umbrella organization for the nation's teachers' associations. KFTA was established in 1947 and, as of 2001, about 250,000 teachers are members (60 percent of all teachers). Its main tasks are to improve teachers' work sites, to conduct research on teachers and training, to protect and enhance teachers, to publish educational books, and to provide benefits for members. A special 1991 law on Improving Teachers' Status allows KFTA to negotiate with the government twice a year to improve the position of teachers. Among KFTA's publications are The Korea Education Newspaper (weekly) and New Education, an annual report on education (MOE).
Forming nongovernmental teachers' unions was long illegal. But new legislation passed in January 1999 guaranteed the teachers' right to organize and bargain collectively, and the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers' Union commenced full-scale official operation. Thus teachers and educational workers at primary, middle, and high schools can organize unions at metropolitan, provincial, and national levels. Teachers' unions may bargain collectively on matters of wages, terms of employment, and benefits to improve their members' economic and social status. However, they are not supposed to exercise the right of collective action, in view of the special status the general public has historically bestowed upon educators (Koilaf Publications).
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