+ A

Kindergarten strike hits parents

Sept 15,2017
The parents of children who attend private kindergartens are facing a crisis as the union of private kindergarten directors, the Korean Kindergarten Association, warned it will go on two rounds of strikes on Sept. 18 and from Sept. 25 to 29.

“I cannot hand in time-off because I took a summer break in August,” said a woman surnamed Kim, a 36-year-old working mother with twin 6-year-old girls, “and the ten-day long Chuseok [Korea’s harvest festival] in October makes it impossible to hand in breaks.”

Kim recently tried to contact friends and relatives to find someone to babysit as her children’s privately operated kindergarten will be joining a five-day strike starting on Sept. 18.

“All my relatives turned down my request,” said Lee, a working mother of a 5-year-old son from Gyeonggi, “so I could only ask for my mother-in-law to come up from the countryside to look after my kid.”

The Korean Kindergarten Association held a press conference last Friday and announced the upcoming strike while requesting the “expansion of funding for private kindergartens and dissolution of the national and public kindergarten expansion policy.”

The association made three requests: to expand government support for private kindergartens, guarantee the operation of independent curricula and the common Nuri Curriculum - an educational welfare project targeting the holistic development of children aged 3 to 5 - and acknowledge the property ownership of their founders.

The association also opposes the governmental policy of expanding national and public kindergarten service by 2022, lifting the rate of kindergarten entry from 24 percent to 40 percent.

“This only gives special treatment to public and national kindergartens,” said Chu I-ho, head of the strike committee at the association. “They are subsidized with over 980,000 won ($866) per child every month, yet private institutions receive only 220,000 won per child for the usual day care and 290,000 won for all-day support.”

The Ministry of Education said not all the association’s claims are true. “The funding for national and public kindergarten includes a budget for every aspect of operations, such as facility fees and personnel costs,” said Ha Yu-kyeong, head of the ministry’s Early Childhood Education and Care Policy Division. “Their funding cannot be compared to that of private kindergartens.”

But the association still requests the expansion of funding for private kindergarten because of its past contributions, in order to establish uniformity of free education.

Originally, the government announced its plans to increase child support per person up to 300,000 won via implementation of the Nuri Curriculum in 2011. Yet the promise has not been kept, as the central government and local government could not agree upon the budget.

“Due to the low birth rate, there are many private kindergartens suffering from decreased budgets,” said a kindergarten director in Seoul. “The support funds for Nuri Curriculum have to increase by at least 300,000 won, as promised.”

“The government needs to balance out its policies by increasing the financial support for private kindergartens,” said Lee Jeong-wuk, professor of early childhood education at Duksung Women’s University, “while making their accounts more transparent.”

An estimated 3,700 private kindergartens, or more than 90 percent of all private kindergartens in Korea, are expected to take part in the strikes. The association planned a strike last June, requesting the same issue, but retracted it when it caused an outcry from parents.

The ministry said the strike is illegal and that it will respond sternly. The parents have also requested that the association refrain from the strike. “Even private cram schools face protests when they notify off-days in advance,” says Lee Ji-yeong, a 41-year-old mother who operates an academy in Daejeon. “I hope that the private kindergartens do their duty and honor the good faith given by the parents.”

BY JUNG HYUN-JIN, PARK HYUNG-SOO AND JEON MIN-HEE [bae.seunghoon@joongang.co.kr]