Curfew on after-school academies causes problems

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Curfew on after-school academies causes problems

It’s a familiar story to any Korean high school student: Lee Ka-hyun, a junior, had a rigorous schedule after school to prepare for the national university entrance exam, burning the midnight oil to cram for the big day.

But life changed last November after a new policy went into effect, forcing all hagwon, private academic institutions, to abide by a 10 p.m. curfew.

“Frankly, I felt uncomfortable after this curfew,” Lee said. “When I get home, it is 11 p.m. I don’t want to go to sleep but the time is awkward to start studying because when I finally feel that I am able to concentrate, it’s time for me to go to sleep.”

With just two months to go until the nationwide exam, many high school students such as Lee are nervous that they’re unable to attend hagwon classes after 10 p.m.

The curfew had been on the books as an ordinance since 1991, but it was rarely enforced by district offices. After being revised in November 2009, however, the curfew has been enforced more, especially in areas with a high concentration of private institutions, such as Daechi-dong, Junggye-dong and Mok-dong.

But loopholes in the law remain. “The big institutions are closing by 10 p.m., but some of my peers are going to small institutions in their neighborhoods where they attend classes from after school until 2 in the morning,” Do Eun-chae, a middle school student, said.

Many of the large institutions follow the 10 p.m. curfew for fear of financial penalties if they’re found to be breaking the law, according to the vice president of C Institute in Gangnam District.

Instead, students are moving to small institutions that are under the radar or to institutions in Gyeonggi, where they can take classes until midnight.

The curfew has had repercussions in the classroom as well. “Many teachers in private institutions are [now] teaching full time, with no breaks between classes,” Lee Kyung-yeon, a high school senior, said. “Moreover, students have to take classes without enough time to eat dinner.”

The big private institutions have also resorted to cramming as many classes as they can into the shortened day, instead of canceling classes.

The curfew has caused headaches for neighborhood residents, too, because of traffic problems created by parents who pick up their children en masse at 10 p.m. “The traffic problems, along with the number of parents with illegally parked cars waiting for their children, have been greater than ever,” said Jang Sye-joon and Kim Sung-hoon, of the Suseo Police Department.

Despite the curfew, Korea’s education market remains strong. Megastudy, one of the biggest institutions in Korea, estimates its total sales soared from 238 billion won ($201 million) in 2009 to 273 billion won this year.

Some are also questioning the curfew’s effectiveness. “Private education formed by extreme competition and lust for personal success cannot be stopped,” said Lee Byeong-min, a professor at Seoul National University. “So the law can’t be truly effective in reducing private education until students’ mind-sets change.”

*This series features articles written and reported by high school students participating in the JoongAng Daily’s summer internship program. All articles were written with the guidance of our staff reporters.

This article was written with assistance of staff reporter Sung So-young.


By Lee Na-ra, Han Na-rae [estyle@joongang.co.kr]
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