Language camps will have to limit their profits

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Language camps will have to limit their profits

Park Seon-ju, 42, is debating whether to send her sixth-grader to a private English camp during summer break that runs for three weeks and costs 3.96 million won ($3,500).

“I think it’s an opportunity for my son to attend an autonomous private school and improve his English,” Park said, “but it’s oppressively expensive.”

Camps for elementary and middle school students, run by foreign language, international and autonomous private high schools, are slated to disappear starting next year as the Ministry of Education has set pricing controls on tuition fees effective Jan. 1, 2018.

The Education Ministry announced last week new standards for foreign language camps regarding the use of school facilities.

Camp fees can no longer exceed 10 percent of operational costs, and must be based on teachers’ wages and room and board for students. Also, schools will no longer be able to admit students who are not enrolled at their schools.

“Permitting foreign language camps at places such as foreign language high schools and autonomous private schools was intended to shift the demand for overseas foreign languages studies back to Korea,” said Kwon Ji-yeong, head of the hagwon policy team at the Education Ministry. “Recently, however, this demand has dropped and some foreign language schools and autonomous private high schools began using their prestige to demand excessively high prices.”

The ministry’s analysis of the costs of extracurricular education determined that short-term overseas language studies amounted to 619 billion won in 2014 and 386.4 billion won last year. But the decision to limit camp fees is, predictably, not popular with schools that hold these camps.

“If it becomes difficult to profit,” an employee at one of the mentioned schools said, “there’s no reason to continuing holding language camps.”

“Considering a month at an overseas camp costs over 8 million won,” said an official at Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies (HAFS), an autonomous private high school in Yongin, Gyeonggi. “I don’t think our camp is too expensive.”

In 2014, the ministry allowed foreign language camps if an agreement was made between the ministry or local governments and the schools. Consequently, foreign language high schools, international schools and autonomous private schools, which parents and students prefer, have been able to use their vacation downtime to host foreign language camps for elementary and middle school students.

There was no tuition cap, but there was a provision that stipulated the cost could not exceed the highest lesson fees at the respective institutions. Depending on the city and province, hagwon lesson fees may differ, but are on average around 12,000 won per hour.

According to the results of an investigation by the civic organization World Without Worrying on Private Education, there were 13 middle and high schools, such as HAFS, Korean Minjok Leadership Academy (KMLA), Cheongsim International Academy and Daewon Foreign Language High School, from the summer of 2016 to the winter of 2017, that charged fees between 990,000 won and 3.5 million won.

“Some high school camps are basically admissions programs,” said Moon Eun-ok, a researcher for the organization, “since editing personal statements and lessons on essay writing were included.”

“Even though we used the profits from the camp to make up for financial deficits and improve the educational environment for our students,” said one KMLA employee, “it’s being denounced as a ‘money feast.’”

BY JEON MIN-HEE, PARK HYUNG-SOO [hwang.hosub@joongang.co.kr]

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