Living up to responsibility

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Living up to responsibility

My sister-in-law recently told me that she had an admissions war. Her children all have careers, so I wondered what admissions war she was talking about. She said it was a competition to send her grandson, who will turn five next year, to a kindergarten. She said she went around different kindergartens to submit applications on behalf of her daughter and son-in-law who are both working.

“If I apply to many places, my grandson will probably get at least one of them,” she thought. But the competition to enter a kindergarten was as fierce as college admissions.

First, all kindergartens said all applicants’ parents must attend presentation sessions. Application forms were only handed out at the events. She visited seven kindergartens. Most of them held their events during weekdays. It was a competition that working parents were destined to lose.

Because the competition was so high, it seemed impossible to draw a lot. The kindergartens also selected those to go on waiting lists among the failed applicants. It was another lottery. The son-in-law came back with a sad face, carrying the number 111 on the waiting list.

She had the final challenge last weekend. The kindergarten is known for its great facilities. Its headmaster proudly said she decided to hold the selection at the latest date among its competitors because it was so popular. The kindergarten was to accept 20 kids, and 250 applied. The competition ratio was 12.5 to 1. It was truly a lottery. Parents who failed to draw a winning lot lamented, while those who won screamed in joy. Some mothers even burst into tears.

My sister-in-law, fortunately, drew a winning lot. If she failed, her grandson was about to be sent to an English-language kindergarten. The tuition for an English-language kindergarten was 2.5 million won ($2,160) for the admission and 1.3 million per monthly payment. Popular kindergartens have already taken reservations. For parents who are both working, an English-language kindergarten is the last resort.

This black comedy will likely worsen next year, as the controversy continues over who will pay for the Nuri program, which offers free child care for children ages 3 to 5. The National Assembly approved a budget bill in which 300 billion won of the central government’s facility maintenance budget will be directed to support the program. This is not a fundamental resolution but a stopgap measure.

The budget required for the Nuri program next year is over 4 trillion won. Local education offices and local governments say they have no financial ability to fund it.

The Gyeonggi Provincial Council and the Seoul Metropolitan City Council both warned they will cut the local government budgets on kindergarten subsidies under the Nuri program. It means they will challenge the Park Geun-hye administration and the ruling party if they do not allocate budget funds for the Nuri program, since it is Park’s election pledge.

The country vowed to take responsibility for child care under a grand slogan, but it has failed to find a way to fund it. The system doesn’t reflect reality, and the parents and children are suffering bitterly.

Did the education authority ever think about what will happen if the limit on kindergarten admissions was lifted? It should have studied the supply and demand in advance and created the fairest possible rule, such as applying for the closest institutions. The people are only victimized under this new system.

If the child care centers will shut down because they do not have enough budget, the already fierce competition will worsen. Korea does not have enough kindergartens to begin with. The admissions capacity of public kindergartens in the country is a third of the average recommended by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Korean children are miserable. Their satisfaction for life is at the bottom of OECD levels. Parents are also miserable. They have to send their children into endless competition starting from kindergarten. Angry posts by mothers are flooding Internet communities.

The band Zoongsik gained fame for their lyrics during an audition program when they performed a song titled “How Can You Want a Baby.” The lyrics said, “Who will raise a baby at home when both parents are working / When will they see each other / Will we meet on the weekend or at the end of the month / Everyone lives like that / If you have a baby, do you really think the only thing you need is feeding the baby?”

It is a statement touching the hearts of the youngsters who call themselves the “N give-up generation” because they have given up so many things, including dating, marriage, a baby and owning a house. The band appeared to be shouting the lyrics to the politicians who are passing the buck to one another as if it were none of their business.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 4, Page 34

*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Cheong Chul-gun

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