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Parents grumble after gov’t nixes English day care

Jan 05,2018
The Ministry of Education is being criticized for trying to prohibit day care centers from teaching English due to a new law that prohibits public kindergartens and elementary schools from teaching English before grade three.
Day care centers receive kids of ages up to 6 and kindergartens from ages 3 to 6.

The new law, a special act on standardizing public education, was created by the Ministry of Education in 2014 and prohibits public kindergartens and after-school programs at public elementary schools to teach English before grade three, when students first start taking English classes at public schools. The ministry created the law to prevent public schools from teaching students material before it appears on the official curriculum set by the government.

The law does not apply to public or private day care centers, which according to the Infant Care Act created by the Ministry of Health last year, can hold classes on music, arts, sports, languages, science and math. The law also does not apply to private English-teaching kindergartens, which are categorized as private education institutes.

But the Education Ministry on Dec. 30 requested the Health Ministry to enforce the law on day care centers. The law is going into effect in March, after a three and a half year delay under a presidential decree that followed strong opposition to the law from parents and after-school teachers.

“We understand that the Ministry of Education is trying to strengthen public education through these policies but we need more time to receive feedback on such a policy from day care center managers and parents,” said a Health Ministry official. “The Education Ministry asked us to make a decision within this month, but it’s not easy to enforce such a policy in a short span of time.

“If we want to enforce it, we would need an amendment to the Infant Care Act, and passing the amendment could take months,” the official said.

Some parents are not happy with the Education Ministry’s request.
“I pay the day care center some 30,000 won [$28] a month to sing and read to my kids in English twice a week,” said Ahn Ji-hyeon, a 38-year-old mother of a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old who lives in Changwon, South Gyeongsang. “My kids are learning English while having fun and I don’t see why the ministry is trying to ban these activities, especially while they let private English kindergartens continue teaching English, where parents pay some 1 million won a month.”

“The new law will only widen the gap between the students who can afford private education and those who cannot,” said Kim Seung-mi, a 33-year-old mother of a 4-year-old in Yangcheon District, western Seoul. “Kids who can afford to go to private English kindergartens will continue to excel in English compared to others who cannot afford to attend these private institutes.”
Experts are also voicing their concerns about the Education Ministry’s move.

“The government cannot issue a directive in a one-sided manner without listening to parents,” said Kim Yong-hee, president of the Korea Edu-care Association, an association of day care centers. “Parents need to be involved in the decision-making process about the curriculum at day care centers.”

“If the government simply bans early education in English in public institutes, it may widen the gap of education between public and private institutes,” said Kim In-kyeong, a researcher at the Korea Development Institute. “The ministries must come up with a gradual approach to strengthen the public education system.”

BY LEE ESTHER, JEONG JONG-HOON [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]