‘Homework agencies’ a boon for busy students

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‘Homework agencies’ a boon for busy students

Lee, like many women in Korea, is an overly-involved mother. The 41-year-old considers her son’s school assignments her business. Homework scores factor into overall academic performance, along with the college entrance exam, when universities select their students.

So if something might affect her son’s chances of getting into a good school, Lee - who only gave her surname - leaves nothing to chance.

But one assignment in particular tested her resolve. Her son’s art teacher had asked the class to make a unique work using hanji, traditional handmade paper made from the bark of indigenous mulberry trees.

It was unfamiliar territory for Lee. So she searched her mind, trying to come up with a solution. Suddenly, she recalled an advertisement she had seen recently, which read, “We do art homework for customers.”

She immediately found the business online and filled her address in on its website, along with the specifics of the assignment and the deadline. The agency charged 30,000 won ($28), and Lee received the finished assignment two days after sending the fees.

“My son still thinks that I did the homework,” she admitted. “I wanted to, but I’m so busy with household affairs and overseeing my son’s studies.”

These days, many parents like Lee are losing confidence in typical hagwon - cram schools that prepare students for college entrance exams - and believe they are no longer enough to turn their children into top performers. And their drive to see their children succeed is where so-called homework agencies have found a new niche. There are a total of 40 websites like the one Lee found. And these agencies, while still not as prevalent as hagwon, are gaining momentum among busy mothers and stressed out students, charging clients between 20,000 won and 70,000 won per assignment.

Many of the agencies specialize in subjects not typically covered in private academies. The most common services are for fine arts projects, which are generally more time consuming.

Most parents believe time spent working on these types of projects takes away from the time their child could be using to study for exam-centered subjects, like English and math.

But even though these businesses compromise the ethical standards of the public education system, the Ministry of Education has done little to rein in the agencies, citing a lack of legal regulation for such entities. “There are rules for hagwon, but we don’t have any specific guidelines to regulate [these homework agencies],” said one Ministry of Education official, who requested to remain anonymous.

But those in education circles say these informal entities are problematic, and that there is a pressing need to punish these businesses and the parents looking for assistance.

“The Education Ministry needs to come up with ways to implement a new set of rules that warrants punishment,” said Kim Moo-seong, a representative of the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations. “This issue needs to be addressed. It is seriously jeopardizing public education.”

BY SHIN JIN [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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