+ A

Defying the law, 22 more kindergartens close their doors

Nov 14,2018
Twenty-two more private kindergartens closed their doors this week, increasing the number of shuttered preschools across Korea to 60 amid an ongoing conflict between private school administrators and the government.

On Monday, the Ministry of Education revealed that 60 private preschools around Korea filed for closure with local education boards, with 22 filing only within the last six days. But education officials have allowed only two of these schools to close, as they are concerned that nearby schools cannot accommodate the children left idle due to the rapid closures.

But the lack of official permission has not stopped administrators from shutting down their schools. 17 of the 22 schools that recently filed to close told parents that they were already shut down.

Administrators gave reasons like operating difficulties and a lack of children as part of their closure requests to the government. The Education Ministry, however, believes the shutdowns are in response to a recent investigation that revealed rampant misuse of public funds at private kindergartens. Officials added that they will be further investigating the reason for the shutdowns.

In late October, Rep. Park Yong-jin of the Democratic Party disclosed an Education Ministry audit that showed rampant misuse of government money at around 1,878 private preschools from 2013 to 2017. The revelations prompted the government to reveal a package of measures to expand its role in early childhood education to address growing mistrust among parents who send their children to private kindergartens.

Public preschools are in high demand in Korea, as they are cheaper than private options and are subject to strict oversight. Most are already overcrowded, and parents across the country have long been calling for more to be established. Private preschool administrators across the country fumed against the government’s plans. They staged a massive gathering on Oct. 31 to protest what they called a witch hunt against them.

Many private kindergartens are now completely closing their doors or else refusing to accept new students. Since every child is required to attend either a public or private preschool, the shutdowns are adding pressure to the government, which said last month that it would work to make sure the students from closed kindergartens can attend public ones nearby. A third of the total closed kindergartens are located in Seoul, which is expected to intensify burdens on busy public preschools in the capital area.

The Education Ministry is insisting that administrators cannot unilaterally close their doors. It said it will work to properly enforce a regulation that requires more than two-thirds of parents whose children attend the preschool to agree to a closure.

Amid this mushrooming crisis, the government’s plans to overhaul the country’s preschools remain stuck. While Rep. Park and other lawmakers have put forward bills that will change how public money is given to private preschools, representatives from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) are preventing the bills from reaching the floor of the National Assembly. LKP lawmakers argue that the laws infringe upon private property and have attacked the current administration for mismanaging its own finances. Frustrated by the delays, Park accused the LKP of being beholden to the interests of private kindergarten administrators on a radio program Tuesday.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]