SEOUL, Jan. 10 (Korea Bizwire) – The government’s decision to end after school English classes at preschools and kindergartens has stirred up a backlash among parents of young children, who argue the motion will only benefit the private English teaching sector and furthermore lead to a disparity in foreign language competency between children whose families can afford expensive tutoring and those who cannot.
As of January 9, the page dedicated to civilian petitions on the official website of the Blue House – the South Korean presidential residence – has a few dozen requests calling on the nation’s chief executive to pull the plug on the after school English ban. Each of these petitions has signatures numbering from the hundreds to thousands, with one boasting over 7,000.
As public disapproval has grown more amplified, members of President Moon Jae-in’s ruling party who occupy seats on the National Assembly’s education committee have reportedly asked the Ministry of Education to postpone the ban.
One 35-year-old mother of a preschooler, when asked about the government closing down after school English lessons, replied that though authorities were not overstepping their boundaries by implementing the ban, she disagreed with the actual decision as it was too “unrealistic”.
The vast majority of South Korean children engage in some form of private tutoring apart from preschool or kindergarten (before beginning elementary school). A report published last December by the Korea Institute of Child Care and Education stated 35.5 percent of 2-year-olds and 83.6 percent of 5-year-olds were at least part-time students at institutions other than preschool or kindergarten.
The report also revealed that 5-year-old preschoolers received an average 68 minutes of private tutoring a day, while those in kindergartens averaged slightly less than 59 minutes. In addition, 54.3 percent of the parents of 5-year-olds felt the private tutoring their children were getting was sufficient, while 40.1 percent felt it was not enough.
As the data indicates, the reality is that South Korean parents feel that one hour per day of extra education is either normal or insufficient; in this environment of educational fervor, the decision to scrap an opportunity to learn English, a skill considered essential for future success, certainly may appear to be unrealistic.
Another worry is that the disappearance of the modestly priced after school English programs will further widen the gap between the “gold spoons” and the “wooden or dirt spoons”, colloquial expressions used to refer to the haves and have-nots.
The national database shows that parents who sent their kids to private kindergartens paid 216,189 won per month, from which 33,481 won paid for after school English programs in 2016.
In contrast, according to a government white paper from the Ministry of Education, 410 part-time English academies for young ones, referred to as “English kindergartens”, were found to charge an average 520,000 won per month (as of April 2016).
A non-profit education organization analyzed data collected by the Seoul Office of Education on after school academies and tutoring centers and found 237 English teaching establishments that took on children for a half-day or longer cost an average 1.03 million won per month. The most expensive charged 2.16 million won.
Facing sky high tuition fees for private tutoring in a foreign language they feel their children cannot go without, more than a few parents are feeling unsettled at the prospect of losing a means of helping their children get a leg up in their language studies.
Kevin Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)