Gov’t revives battle against hagwon
President Lee Myung-bak seems poised to involve himself more deeply in the controversy surrounding private education in Korea.
Under his leadership, the Ministry of Education and the ruling Grand National Party are set to release a “Road Map to Ease Private Education Costs” by the end of July, less than a month after the Education Ministry unveiled comprehensive measures to reduce household spending on hagwon, private educational institutes, the government said.
President Lee received a report yesterday from Education Minister Ahn Byong-man and Vice Minister Lee Ju-ho on the draft of the road map.
The government move gained a major boost after the Youido Institute, a think tank run by the ruling Grand National Party, hosted a debate titled “The Fight Against Private Education” on June 26.
Chung Doo-un, a GNP lawmaker and a close confidant of President Lee, proposed banning cram schools for elementary school students from providing classes after 9 p.m., and for middle and high school students after 10 p.m.
The hagwon curfew echoes a similar proposal by Kwak Seung-jun, head of the Presidential Council for National Future and Vision, in April. However, Kwak’s suggestion was scrapped in May after harsh opposition from the Education Ministry, which called the plan “unrealistic.”
This time, the ministry will have little chance of resisting since President Lee is said to have given his approval.
The essence of Lee’s education policies is “normalizing public education,” which he believes can be achieved by quelling Korea’s obsession with private education. During his presidential campaign, he pledged to build a nation that will enable people to get to university and land jobs without resorting to after-school classes in private institutions.
“Getting rid of private education is crucial for reducing the financial burden on lower-income households but it seems hagwon have a strong lobbying capacity,” Lee said at a meeting with ministers on June 23.
Rep. Chung reiterated his firm stance on the anti-hagwon policies in a radio show yesterday. “Since hagwon are so influential we can’t have provincial and city education offices deal with the measures. [So] the Education Ministry will work with the National Tax Office and police stations,” he said, pledging to unveil “finalized measures against private education costs” in July.
Although Korea is expected to post minus economic growth this year, household spending on private education, including hagwon and tutoring, rose to 20.9 trillion won ($16.4 billion) last year from 20.04 trillion won a year earlier.
“If the bill is legislated at the National Assembly, the Education Ministry has no choice but to follow it. We hope the bill will be effective,” said Yang Sung-kwang, a high-ranking Education Ministry official.
“Given that the dominant players in private education are hagwon, limiting their operation hours will help quell private education fever,” said Lee Bum, an education expert. “It’s crucial that we compensate people who report unlawful hagwon operation.”
By Seo Ji-eun [firstname.lastname@example.org]