Seoul parents scramble after notice

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Seoul parents scramble after notice

Just three weeks before kindergartens in Seoul began accepting applications for 2015 admissions on Thursday, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education placed a limit on the number of establishments to which parents may apply for their children.

When parents called to inquire about punitive measures for violators who exceed that regulation, the city responded that it was going to “trust parents to act responsibly.”

But in a country where even kindergartens are ranked from best to worst, a responsible attitude may have been the last thing to ask for, because up until Tuesday, most parents did exactly the opposite.

Just a day before the application deadline, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education on Wednesday warned through a guideline issued to kindergartens that parents who apply for more than four establishments for their children will have their admission canceled at whichever institution the child is accepted to among the four.

The unheralded notice led to mobs of parents storming into kindergartens to withdraw their children’s application forms.

“Educational authorities keep turning the tables,” said a 35-year-old mother surnamed Lee, who lives with her 4-year-old daughter in Dongjak District, southern Seoul. Lee said she canceled two private kindergarten applications on Wednesday following the last-minute warning by the Seoul educational office.

“Parents are raging inside,” she added with a sigh.

Wednesday’s guideline also ordered kindergartens to submit their entire list of applicants, applicants’ birthdays and the names of their guardians no later than Dec. 15, when all admission processes wrap up - an indication that educational officials would filter out violators themselves.

But some argue that even that system will prove fruitless, as some parents could potentially write multiple guardian names on their children’s application forms - the child’s father’s name on one, perhaps, and the grandmother’s on another.

An official from the Seoul Metropolitan Education Office, who requested anonymity, acknowledged that there were loopholes, saying, “It’s true we don’t have a sophisticated countermeasure.”

Seoul Metropolitan Councilman Song Jae-hyeong, a member of the ruling Saenuri Party, went so far as to say that the 2015 kindergartens admissions process was in “turmoil.”

“The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education keeps adopting stopgap measures, and somebody has to take responsibility for causing this mess,” the councilman said.

These extreme reform measures date back to Nov. 10, when Cho Hee-yeon, the Seoul superintendent of education, stated in a briefing that, starting this year, parents of young children will only be allowed to apply to three kindergartens total.

Up until last year, parents could turn in applications for as many private and public kindergartens as they pleased. If the number of candidates outnumbered the available slots - commonplace at popular schools - kindergartens made their decisions through a lottery.

After facing a storm of criticism from parents, who argued that the new application system will only trigger corruption, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education rushed to reveal partial revisions on Nov. 27, many of which failed to address families’ concerns.

The number of applications allowed was then raised to four, though precautionary measures to prevent parents from placing more than the acceptable number of applications for their children were not mentioned then.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [selee@joongang.co.kr]
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