Gov’t may curb hiring for English kindergartens

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Gov’t may curb hiring for English kindergartens

Education authorities said Wednesday they may prohibit so-called English kindergartens in Korea from hiring foreign instructors, their latest attempt to curb spending on private learning by education-crazy parents.

In a press conference Wednesday, Cho Jae-ik, an official at the Ministry of Education, said the government wants to “intensively control” households’ expenditures on English and math education, the two subjects in highest demand.

Of the 18.6 trillion won ($16.9 billion) spent annually by Koreans on private education, English accounts for 6.3 trillion won and math for 5.8 trillion won. Taken together, the two subjects capture 65 percent of the spending, said Cho.

English kindergartens have taken advantage of the feverish demand for early English lessons. They are a fad dating back to around 2008 that take advantage of the idea that language skills are best acquired in early childhood.

There are roughly 300 English kindergartens in Seoul and Gyeonggi.

The chief difference between them and other ordinary kindergartens is that all classes - science, math, physical education, story time and music, among others - are taught in English.

Cost is another distinction. On average, monthly tuition is about 800,000 won per month, around 482,000 won more than a normal kindergarten. Most English kindergartens are concentrated in the affluent area of Gangnam District, southern Seoul, which is also Korea’s district for hagwon, or cram schools.

In order to ban English kindergartens from hiring foreigners, amendments are required in the private cram school law and the immigration control law, the Education Ministry said.

Negotiations with relevant governmental organizations are under way, according to authorities.

Domestic law does not recognize the term “English kindergarten,” as the government classifies such institutes under the category of hagwon.

Some criticized the idea as headed in the wrong direction.

“It’s a hasty decision,” said Kim Dong-seok, a spokesperson for the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations. “Authorities should first analyze why demand [for English education from a young age] is high, rather than trying to block it all at once.”

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




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