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Education minister slams preschool owners

Feb 27,2019
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae on Tuesday shot back at a major association of private kindergarten administrators, which held a rally the day before that was filled with extreme accusations against the government.

Appearing on CBS’s morning radio show, Yoo vowed the Ministry of Education would not back down on its plans to institute Edufine, a state-managed accounting system, for all major kindergartens nationwide by March 1 as part of the government’s drive to reform the country’s early childhood education.

The ministry’s announcement of the measure on Monday invited heavy backlash from the country’s largest federation of private preschool administrators, the Korea Kindergarten Association (KKA).

The federation held massive rally outside the National Assembly on Monday to protest the plan with at least 10,000 people in attendance.

Speakers at the rally launched vicious tirades against the government, arguing that the Education Ministry’s plans infringed upon their property rights and had communist intentions.

In his opening speech, the KKA’s chairman, Lee Duk-seon, accused the ministry and ruling party of “purposefully murdering” early childhood education and argued that the state’s agencies had conspired to frame the KKA as a corrupt and criminal organization.

“A country where its government takes charge of early childhood education is a communist one,” Lee said. He said the ministry was putting in place a communist policy by prohibiting administrators from closing down their schools if two-thirds of the children’s parents do not agree with the closure.

Also partaking in the rally were conservative opposition lawmakers and prominent right-wing activists. They lent their support to the KKA’s dissent towards the government.

“The most important premise in a free democracy is the guarantee of freedoms,” said Rep. Choung Tae-ok of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP). “Changing the law [in opposition] to legally defined private property rights is not normal.”

Yoo, however, took the extreme nature of the accusations at the rally as a weakness that showed the KKA and its allies lacked a logical basis for their position.

The accusations of private property infringement were far from true, Yoo said, as private kindergartens “receive government subsidies and a variety of privileges” like tax breaks in addition to tuition paid by parents.

It was that infusion of public money that brought the lack of transparency at private preschools into the spotlight in the first place. An Education Ministry audit last year found rampant misappropriation of funds at many of these private institutions.

The resulting public outcry from parents and activists pushed the government to find ways to implement reform at these private preschools. Many parents are forced to send their children to private kindergartens despite their concerns due to overcrowding at public schools. A reform plan that would mandate that all kindergartens use Edufine was pushed in the legislature by a ruling Democratic Party lawmaker, but it has been indefinitely bogged down in the National Assembly due to opposition from the LKP.

But sensing it could no longer wait for the stagnant legislature to resolve the matter, the Education Ministry took matters into its own hands late last year. It amended an executive order to force private preschools nationwide to use Edufine. With that process now complete, the ministry mandated that Edufine first be used at 581 schools with more than 200 students by March 1 and then expanded to all preschools by the end of the year. The accounting system allows the ministry to monitor the use of funds at these institutions in real time.

While resistance by the KKA and its members has so far stopped at angry rhetoric and individual school shutdowns, which are now restricted due to government orders, it is rumored that KKA-affiliated preschools may coordinate a complete shutdown to pressure the government.

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