Day care case puts focus on teacher qualifications

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Day care case puts focus on teacher qualifications

On Thursday, a mother of a 3-year-old daughter stopped to gaze at an announcement attached to the entrance of a day care center in Incheon, which stated that the facility was no longer in service.

That’s because the facility found itself at the center of controversy earlier this week when CCTV footage of a female teacher smacking a 4-year-old girl went viral. The employee later said that she had lost her temper after the child refused to eat her kimchi.

“After I saw the footage, I cried and couldn’t fall asleep,” said the woman, surnamed Kang, whose daughter used to attend the center. “My heart was throbbing.”

Not long after residents began to move to the area, day care centers flooded in as the government began to invest in a free child care system in 2012, providing free day care to infants to 2-year-olds as well as 5-year-olds.

The following year, when President Park Geun-hye took office, the child care policy expanded to cover all children from infants to 5-year-olds - one of Park’s campaign promises.

Currently, the government spends about 5 trillion won ($4.6 billion) to support its free child care policy, and parents who send their children to day care centers receive financial aid, ranging from 220,000 won to 394,000 won, depending on the child’s age.

The expanded free child care policy accelerated the number of day care centers nationwide, allowing more working parents to send their children to such facilities.

But as demand for more day care centers rose, so, too, did demand for teachers. However, this led to problems over teachers’ qualifications, with some taking advantage of online courses to easily obtain licenses.

Day care teaching licenses are divided into three classes. The lowest license is eligible to anyone who has graduated from high school and has received training at a center designated by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

A second-class license is eligible to anyone who has graduated from college or a vocational school, or those who have earned a third-class license and have at least one year of field experience.

Course credit for each license tends to vary by school or online program.

“Anyone can easily become certified to work as a day care teacher,” said Lee Eun-kyung, the author of the book “The 50 Secrets Day Care Centers Don’t Tell Mothers.” “It is difficult to verify teachers’ actual qualifications with such a simple process.”

Lee Mi-jeong, a professor in the department of young child care, education and welfare at the Yeoju Institute of Technology, agreed. “Even though they don’t focus on lectures, they get qualified to be teacher simply by clicking the mouse at the computer,” Lee said.

Among the 41,183 second-class licensed day care teachers, 58.2 percent obtained licenses through online courses.

The day care teacher in Incheon who was apprehended initially obtained a second-class license through the online process.

After three years of hands-on experience, however, she was able to obtain the highest-level license. The 33-year-old female teacher was arrested and detained at the Incheon Yeonsu Police Precinct on Thursday evening.

“It is also a problem that there is no process to verify the character and humanity of these people who earned licenses in such a way,” said Lee Eun-kyung. “Child abuse tends to occur when less-qualified teachers caring for children fail to control their anger.”

Since the free child care policy was implemented in 2013 at the start of the Park administration, 632 total instances of child abuse at day care centers have been reported.

Last year, 265 cases were reported, a 14.2 percent increase compared to 2013, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the National Child Protection Agency.

Child care experts now demand that the government reconsider its free child care policy, focusing not just on securing funding, but also its quality.

But that, they say, is in large part contingent on the people who care for the children - the teachers and directors at day care centers.

“When training day care center teachers, knowledge of child development, psychology and child abuse prevention should be the focus,” said Jang Hwa-jeong, the director of the National Child Protection Agency.

Professor Lee also recommended that at least 50 percent of online courses be replaced with offline courses in addition to more mandatory field training. 

BY SHIN SUNG-SIK, PARK YUNA [ypc3c@joongang.co.kr]


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