Focus on childcare qualityA common complaint among working mothers is that there simply aren’t enough credible and trustworthy facilities in Korea that provide childcare services.
As local officials examine why Korea has one of the world’s lowest birth rates, they should take a closer look at this issue in particular.
The government’s policy to promote childbirth has led to few tangible gains because it overlooks the fact that many parents have little faith in the nation’s childcare system.
There are currently about 33,400 childcare centers across the nation. Combined, they are capable of handling roughly 1.42 million children. Yet just 1.13 million children use the facilities, highlighting the trust issues parents have with these centers.
Many parents prefer to use state-subsidized and public care centers, which provide higher-quality services and carry more credibility. But there are just 1,826 of these facilities, accounting for only 5.5 percent of the total. Roughly 120,000 parents are on waiting lists to get their children into these day care centers, which means they essentially have to sign up way before a child is born to even have a shot.
The solution to this mess is relatively simple. Experts have all called for a sharp increase in state and public care facilities during recent debates on how the government can reverse the decreasing birth rate and offset the problems tied to its rapidly aging population.
The advice, however, didn’t make it into the final set of policy proposals the government is considering. The government only made a pledge to urge the private sector to provide more affordable and higher-quality facilities. What parents want are state-administered and affordable facilities, but the government is entrusting the private sector with this responsibility.
The government argues that it will have to increase its budget significantly to build new facilities and that it cannot force private establishments to close down.
But it can solve the problem by using the childcare allowances set aside for the working class to instead build more childcare centers. It should also establish a system of guidelines to shutter facilities that offer poor services.
Lastly, the government should reconsider another fundamental problem: Most parents find it difficult to actually get time off work to care for their newborns. We are envious of Sweden, which allows mothers and fathers an ample amount of time off work when they have children.