Parents fret over new kindergarten applicationsIn response to backlash from parents who argue that the Seoul educational authorities’ new application system for city kindergartens will be ineffective, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education revealed partial revisions Thursday evening but failed to address families’ main concerns.
The revisions come just a few days before schools begin accepting applications for 2015 kindergarten admissions.
In a Nov. 10 briefing, Cho Hee-yeon, the Seoul superintendent of education, proposed an overhaul of kindergarten admissions, citing unfairness and inconvenience in the current system.
He said that starting next year, children will be allowed to apply to only three establishments in total, but the number was increased slightly to four on Thursday.
Seoul’s 889 kindergartens - both private and public - will be divided into four divisions and children can apply for only one from each group.
Currently, school-age children can apply for as many private and public kindergartens as they want. If the number of candidates outnumbers the available slots, the kindergartens make their decisions through a lottery.
Choi stressed that the initiative will give plenty of chances to children even if they fail to gain admission when losing in the lottery because some students are accepted by more than one institute and must choose the one they prefer.
But in a country where even kindergartens are ranked from best to worst, some parents contend that the new measure will only complicate the situation, especially considering how the establishments are unevenly distributed among the four divisions.
Each kindergarten can decide which division it will be a part of, and according to data revealed by the Seoul educational district offices on Wednesday, a large portion (344 schools) were in the first division, effectively making it the top category.
The second division had 162 institutes, and the third had 47. The remaining 336 said they have yet to decide.
In Thursday’s briefing, Seoul officials acknowledged the uneven distribution and said they would make it more balanced, but they did not say how.
“I was planning to apply my daughter for a public kindergarten, but they’re all in the first and second divisions, so I’m going to give up on that,” said Lee Seon-jeong, 35, who has a 4-year-old daughter and lives in Dongjak District, southern Seoul.
“It’s so hard to get into a public kindergarten nowadays, but educational authorities are just making matter worse,” she added.
Lee continued that she fears some parents might break the rules by submitting two applications for their child at a single top-tier kindergarten. She became more worried after making a call recently to the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education.
“I was dumbfounded when an official told me they don’t actually have preventive measures for my concern, and that they’re going to trust parents to act responsibly,” she said.
The matter of double applications wasn’t brought up by officials on Thursday.
Another mother surnamed Bae, 40, from Seongdong District, northern Seoul, said she’s not happy with the dates of the lotteries: Dec. 4, 5, 10 and 12, all of which are weekdays.
As a working couple, she and her husband might have to take vacation days off to attend, she said.
The Seoul branch of the Korea Kindergarten Association submitted a petition on Nov. 21 signed by the heads of 524 kindergartens, which read that the “unilateral policy does not reflect the voices of reality.”
Some pundits are blaming Cho for failing to comprehend parents’ struggles.
“A well-crafted policy must be the result of substantial discussion and should contain a clear picture of the possible side effects,” said Kim Yeoung-bong, a professor at Sejong University in Gwangjin District, southeastern Seoul. “The affected parties should be given ample time to understand and grow familiar with the new policy, but everything was rushed and parents are now agitated.”
BY KIM SUNG-TAK, SHIN JIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]