South Korea: Protesting with Flowers and Pink Placards

In South Korea, a female protester made a change in the conservative education sector, a feat no burly protester with a Molotov cocktail has succeeded in achieving over several decades.

Cha Young-ran, 28, studied for about four years for the Teacher Certification Examination, a national test required for those wanting to become educators.  Just one month before she was scheduled to take the exam there was avshocking announcement from the Ministry of Education: there was not a single job vacancy in the Korean public school system for integrated social studies and the integrated science that school year. Cha was planning to take the exam on integrated social studies and the last-minute notice meant that years of work could be rendered meaningless.

Last year, there were 32 job openings in social studies and 34 vacancies in 2008. Enraged over the inconsiderateness of the administration, Cha, dubbing herself “the Noryangjin girl” (after  the district in Seoul where institutes offering Teacher Certification exam courses are heavily concentrated), stepped up to urge the Ministry of Education to compel every education sector to notify the public of available vacancies prior to the exam.  A petition was circulated, and gained 3,500 signatures.

Images of the letter, placard and photos from Cha's blog. (Used with Permission)

Last week, Cha staged a solo protest in front of the Education Ministry, holding a bunch of flowers and a pink placard that read “a date request for Mr. Lee” (the minister of education). Within 30 minutes, Cha, in her black suit and with her long straight hair swinging in the wind, was invited into the ministry building. Several days later, the ministry announced that notification on job vacancies six months prior to the teacher certification test had been made compulsory.

이주호 교과부 장관님 ^^ 데이트 신청합니다. 먼저 제 소개부터 드리면…요즘에 인터넷 상에서 ‘노량진녀'로 통합니다. 이번 주 토요일 10월 23일 날 1차 시험인데 왜 교과부에 나와서 장관님께 데이트 신청을 하는지 궁금하시겠지요? 네이버 검색에 ‘노량진녀'를 치시고 동영상을 보시면 그 이유를 대충은 알 수 있으실 겁니다…그 동안 모든 걸 다 끊고 도서관과 집만 왔다 갔다 하며 오직 임용고시 하나만을 바라보며 지내왔습니다…오락가락 졸속행정에 이리치리고 저리치리는 힘없는 예비교사들을 대신해서 이주호 장관님께 짐심으로 데이트를 신청합니다…***-****-**** 연락 기다리고 있겠습니다.

To. Lee Ju-ho, Minister or Education. :) I ask you for a date. First, let me introduce myself….I am the so-called ‘Norayngjin girl’ on the internet. My first round of the teacher’s exam is on Oct.23, which is this Saturday. You might wonder what am I standing here in front of the ministry and asking you to go on a date. If you type the search word, ‘Norayngjin girl’ on the, you will soon get the idea….I have cut myself from everything (every outside activity) and went back and forth from the library to the house, focusing only on the exam…One behalf of every helpless future teachers who suffer under this whimsical, helter-skelter administration system, I ask Minister Lee for a date…***(her cell phone number) I will wait for your response.

On the web, lavish praise was heaped upon Cha for her courageous move. Blogger Ssmile260 thanked her for standing up against the social injustice with innovative ideas.

사회의 불합리를 개선하려는 잔다르크 같은 “노량진 녀”가 많이 나왔으면 한다.

She is Joan of Arc of our time who tries to make change in the irrational system. I hope to see more Noryangjin girls in the future.

Blogger SeriousMethod, who was once in the same situation, lauded Cha for taking action in an area that no one dared to touch:

저도 사범대 출신인지라 그녀의 입장을 누구보다 잘 압니다. 저는 전공이 영어인지라 영어교사는 매년 뽑아 다행이었지만…저도 대학시절 참 불합리한 제도라 생각했지만 사실 생각에만 그치고 행동으로 실천하지 못했습니다. 교직사회라는 곳이 참 보수적인 곳인데 그런 사회를 앞에두고 이런 용감한 시위를 벌인 그녀에게 박수를 보냅니다. 그녀가 꼭 임용시험에 합격하여 훌륭한 교사가 되길 바라겠습니다.

I went to a college of education and I totally understand her situation more than anyone else does. My major was English (education) and fortunately, there has always been job vacancy for English teachers, but…I always aware of the irrationality of the system, but never took any action. The education sector is very conservative place. I give her a round of applause for protesting so valiantly. I sincerely hope her to pass the teacher’s exam and become a great teacher.

Sungkyoung25 reminded others that this was a long overdue reform. Education remained the only government sector that did not give potential exam-takers prior notification on job vacancies:

모든 국가고시는 선발 인원을 먼저 공고하는데 유독 교사는 명퇴교사 파악이 필요하다고 시험보기 한 달 전에야 선발 인원이 공고된다. 그런데 올해, 공통사회 공통 과학 같은 경우에 선발인원이 전국 0명이었던 것. 1년 동안 공부 열심히 한 수험생들은 정말 하늘이 무너지는 심정이었을 것… 그런데 문제는 임고 준비생 중에서 1년 공부한 사람보다는 2년 3년 심지어 5-6년 까지도 시험 준비를 했던 사람들이 있었을 거다…그래서 노량진녀가 총대를 메고 나선 것이다. 불합리한 제도 개선이 시급함으로. 공무원들이야 자신들의 행정 처리를 내고 발표를 하면 그만이지만 그 공고를 기다려왔던 수많은 사람들은 한 순간에 나락으로 떨어지고 마니까…정말 안이한 내 자신이 부끄럽기도 하고 그녀의 그런 열정이 부럽기도 하고 실천하는 지식인의 필요성을 다시 한 번 느끼게 되었다.

Every national exam sends the prior notice on the job vacancies, except the Teacher Certification exam. They(education ministry officials) make an announcement on the teacher vacancies just one month before the exam under the excuse that they want to get the exact number of vacancies made by the retirement. This year, there was zero vacancy on the integrated social studies and the integrated science. The students who studied for a year for the exam (on that subject) would be crestfallen…What’s worse, is that there are more people who have studied not one, but two or three years, even five to six years for the exam… That is why the Noryanjin girl stepped up, because of the urgency of the matter…For the government officials, this is not a big deal. They (casually) do some paper works and make an announcement (on the job vacancy). But for those numerous people who have been waiting for the job, they feel as if they fall into a pit… (The Noryangjin girl’s move) made me feel shameful about myself. I envy her passion. She made me realized one more time the importance of taking action as an intellect.

Cha's request for change was a demand that anyone with a social conscience could have made. However, Cha was the one who actually took action and with a zest of fresh ideas, a rare change was made in one of the most rigidly bureaucratic areas of Korean life.

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