A half-baked education roadmapThe Ministry of Education’s proposal to lower the elementary school starting age to five has caused controversy. The ministry wants to introduce the change from 2025 to help reduce pre-school tuition burden and advance career age.
But the plan worries many education experts and parents. The Korea Federation of Teachers’ Associations criticized the move for being “dismissive of child developmental features.” Thirteen education and parent groups held a joint press conference to protest to the plan Monday.
Among the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), four states — Britain, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand — accept children to schools from the age of five. Another 26 countries, including the U.S. and France, keep to age six for school starting age. A future planning commission under the Lee Myung-bak administration in 2009 studied the idea as a measure against low birth rate, but the government failed to see it through.
Changing school age must be agreed on by the public. Since the move requires a major revision in the Education Act of 1949 for the first time, the idea needs to be thoroughly discussed to build social consensus. The Education Ministry has not shared the proposal with district education offices, or sought opinions from children, parents, teachers and others in the pre-school education field. It is not clear if the move was discussed with the governing People Power Party (PPP).
The idea has come out suddenly as it had not been a part of the presidential campaign or agendas of the transition committee. The education minister proposed the failed idea during her briefing to the president, and the president must have liked it as he had ordered “speedy execution.” The impromptu procedure underscores how much the Yoon Suk-yeol administration lacks philosophy on education. If easing the burden on preschool tuition and an education gap is the primary cause for early school age, the proposal of the government covering for kindergarten expenses by making kindergarten mandatory, as suggested earlier by a presidential committee devoted to tackling low birth and aging society, would be better.
The issue of combining preschool child education and care also should be addressed. The integration requires persuasion of people in the industry so as not to cause a hiatus in care and education gap.
Communication is essential in policy-making procedure. Education is particularly important. Instead of proposing the idea directly to the president, the education ministry should have discussed it through the national education commission that is to be launched soon.