[EDITORIALS]Educating toddlersAn infant education act, which has been drifting for the past six years because of conflicts between interested parties, has finally come up for debate at the National Assembly. The bill faced last minute difficulties, but its passage is assured since the governing Our Open Party and the majority Grand National Party openly support it. When the law is enacted, five education-related laws will be implemented, providing legal grounds for public support to preschool education.
Children are the hope of our future. Korea already has a low birth rate of 1.17. According to an opinion poll, the biggest reason that women avoid giving birth is the heavy burden of education costs. A considerable number of facilities that provide education and day care for preschool-age children rely on private funding. Of the 8,300 kindergartens here, 4,000 are private, and of the 21,000 day care centers, there are only 1,400 public centers and 195 operated by companies. All others are private.
Despite the situation, government support is limited to subsidizing day care expenses of children under age 5 in low-income families. Middle-class families have to bear a heavy burden for education and the day care of toddlers. We hope the new law will contribute to providing high-quality education to all children.
With the economic difficulties during the foreign exchange crisis in 1997-98, Korean households felt the necessity for two wage earners. Society is not equipped with a system that allows parents to leave their children at day care centers while they work, so Korean households are fast becoming one-child only households. And parents’ expectations about the quality of day care and education are high.
The ugly confrontation between kindergartens and day care centers over the passage of the law needs some thought. In order to improve the quality of education and care for children, the government must introduce an integrated system implemented in advanced countries. Administrative responsibilities now scattered among different ministries must be streamlined.