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Ministry delays ban on preschool English

Parents and teachers protested the plan to prohibit such classes
Jan 17,2018
The Ministry of Education delayed a ban on public kindergartens teaching English after protests from parents and English teachers.

“We realize there is a lack of a consensus in society regarding the plan,” said the Education Ministry in its statement on Tuesday. “We will be collecting public opinion on the plan in the next months and come up with whether or not to allow English classes in public kindergartens by early next year.”

The Education Ministry passed a special act on standardizing public education in 2014 that prohibits public kindergartens and after-school programs at public elementary schools to teach English before third grade, when students first start taking English classes at public schools.

The law was intended to prevent public schools from teaching students material before it appears on the official curriculum set by the government.

The law was to go into effect in March, after a three and a half year delay ordered by a presidential decree after opposition parents and after-school teachers complained in 2014.

On Dec. 27, the ministry reminded the public of the ban on English education in public kindergartens and possibly at day care centers starting in March. Hundreds of people filed petitions on the Blue House website asking the government to scrap the plan.

“Does the government not realize that if English education is forbidden in public kindergartens and after-school programs at public elementary schools, many parents will turn to private English education, which they have to work to death to pay for?” wrote a user on the website on Jan. 14, who identified herself as a mother of four children.

One petition by a parent was signed by 19,275 people last month.

“I have taught English to young children for 10 years now,” wrote another user on Jan. 6. “My job may disappear in the next two months. I ask the Blue House to please consider listening to people like us before it decides on a policy. Our lives depend on your decision.”

“Many parents and citizens in general have told us that the ministry first needs to tackle some illegal practices in private education in English,” said Education Minister Kim Sang-gon.

“We will be focusing our attention for now on rooting out illegal practices in private English education,” said Kwon Ji-young, head of the child education policy department of the Education Ministry. “From February, we will expose private English academies who are illegally calling themselves English kindergartens.”

Dozens of private English academies were fined last month for falsely advertising themselves as kindergartens.

Some parents sent children to the academies hoping to receive government subsidies for education but realized that they were not eligible because their children were being educated at private academies, not kindergartens.

The government subsidizes fees for private kindergartens through the Nuri Curriculum, an educational welfare program for children aged 3 to 5.

“There is also a political force behind the scrapping of the plan,” said a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party who asked not to be named. “Many people affected by the plan are parents in their 30s and 40s, and they are the main supporters of the current government. So why would it want to turn them against the administration before local elections in June?”

The Education Ministry has not clarified whether it will push through with the 2014 law banning English education at after-school programs at public elementary schools before grade three.

“If the Education Ministry decides to delay the special act on standardizing public education once again and let after-school programs teach English in grades one and two,” said an Education Ministry official, “then we cannot normalize public education in English, where we are trying to make sure everyone starts on the same level when they begin to take English classes in third grade.”

The policy may face a further backlash from parents and schools.

According to a survey by the Education Ministry of 7,865 parents of first and second graders from last July to August, 71.8 percent said after-school English classes must be held for grades one and two at public elementary schools. It also surveyed 539 elementary schools, 68.2 percent of which said they wanted to hold after-school English classes for first and second grade.

BY YUN SUK-MAN, ESTHER CHUNG AND SUNG SI-YOON [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]