Gov’t tackles achievement gap

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Gov’t tackles achievement gap

The government said Tuesday that it would expand support for the education of children in low-income households, citing a wide achievement gap between the poor and wealthy.

Currently, the government provides 41,200 won ($36) a year for low-income elementary students to buy school supplies and materials. For middle school students, the allowance is 95,300 won, and for high school students, it’s 1.52 million won.

The Ministry of Strategy and Finance said it would announce the new subsidies next week.

“We plan to come up with diverse policies on education to help low-income households, but the current policies have limited impact, and students and parents don’t find them as useful as they should be,” the ministry said in a press release Tuesday.

The ministry added that it would consider covering field trips and uniforms for students from low-income households. Currently, some regional governments offer these benefits to their constituents.

From fourth grade to senior year of high school, the government will also provide mentoring programs for low-income students to help them find jobs and develop educational programs for kids with demonstrated talent.

At the college level, the ministry plans to expand financial aid for low-income students and have colleges cut their tuition fees in half. Of the college students who receive government aid, the ministry said, 39 percent, or 335,000 people, receive an amount equal to less than half their tuition.

For young children, the government plans to expand spending for the Nuri program, which offers subsidies for day care. Currently, the central government covers 41.2 percent of the subsidies, and the rest is paid by regional governments. Many of them have called the cost burdensome.

The ministry said the central government plans to cover all the cost for the Nuri programs and expects to need an additional 2 trillion won for it.

The Finance Ministry said it would announce details of all these plans by the end of the year after discussing them with related ministries.

The government explained it wanted to help low income-households because the achievement gap has continued to widen between the rich and poor.

“The gap between people spending on education continues to widen between wage groups, and social mobility from education has been falling recently,” said an official from the Finance Ministry.

According to Statistics Korea, the top-tier income group spent over five times more on education than the lowest-tier group in 2008, but that figure has since jumped to seven times. The percentage of people believing they can’t climb the social ladder increased from 29 percent in 2006 to nearly 44 percent in 2013.

“[In the past], there were people who were confident that their lives would improve if they worked hard enough, even if there was income disparity between the rich and poor,” said Kim Hi-sam, a professor of education at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology. “But today, they seem less optimistic.”

Yuh Yu-jin, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, said, “One of the biggest reasons the country is having such problems is that Korea went through industrialization in 50 years, whereas most other countries in the world took 100 to 200 years, which means Korea didn’t have enough time to be prepared for the rapid changes in social welfare and education sectors.”

A Ministry of Education report found last year that Korean households with monthly income of 7 million won or more spent 443,000 won a month on private education, nine times as much as families bringing in 1 million won or less.

The disparity is especially felt among younger people because of the fierce competition for jobs.

There are now on average 36 applicants for every job, up from 32 just two years ago, and youth unemployment reached a record high of 12 percent earlier this year.

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