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Editorial: Talks needed to lighten work burden on public school teachers

The Central Council for Education compiled a draft report on work-style reform for public school teachers with long working hours.

The panel set a cap on monthly overtime by teachers at 45 hours, following examples set for the private sector. In addition, the council called for the introduction of the variable working hour system, which allows adjustment of work hours throughout the year depending on how busy educators are.

The government introducing work-style reform for teachers who did not have a limitation on their overtime is commendable. According to a survey by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, 30 percent of elementary school teachers and 60 percent of junior high teachers work more than 80 hours of overtime per month. This figure exceeds the limit considered to trigger "karoshi," or death from overwork.

The panel also recognized extracurricular activities such as overseeing student clubs or preparations for classes as working hours, reflecting the reality of the everyday burden shouldered by the nation's teachers in its decision.

Yet, it is still rather questionable if educators on the frontline will be able to implement these changes. Is the 45-hour overtime cap a realistic goal? If this standard is applied, an overwhelming majority of teachers are going to exceed this limit. Coaching for clubs in the morning or after classes could easily force teachers to work hours over the limit.

The council's draft guidelines, therefore, call for schools to hire outside experts to ease the burden on teachers. But finding the right people to fill the roles played by teachers is no easy task in some regions, and substantial preparations are necessary to make this arrangement work.

It is understandable to clarify the job description of teachers in order to correct long working hours. But more efforts should be made to determine if tasks such as monitoring student extracurricular activities is really the responsibility of teachers. Without taking such steps, the goals will remain promises on paper.

The effectiveness of the variable working hour system is questionable, too. The system is hoped to allow teachers to take a substantial number of days off during the summer vacation period and other times while also permitting them work longer on weekdays when class is in session. The program may be effective in managing annual work hours, but it will not solve the problem of excessive labor during the semester. The summer vacation, when the panel envisions teachers take more days off, is the season for teacher training and other job-related assignments.

If the council is really serious about tackling the issue of public educators' long working hours, it should conduct a wide-ranging review. The investigation should examine questions such as whether or not schools have a sufficient number of teachers, or if there are appropriate support systems for educators in place.

The panel should also re-examine the validity of the current pay system. Currently, it does not pay teachers for their overtime hours, only uniformly adding 4 percent of their base monthly salary to their compensation. It is clear that much more discussion is needed on the matter.

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