Wrap up the plan and apologize

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Wrap up the plan and apologize

The out-of-the-blue idea of lowering elementary school starting age has caused an uproar. The Ministry of Education has come under fire from the education and civilian communities as well as the legislature after minister Park Soon-ae last week proposed the plan of lowering legal school acceptance age to five from current six during a briefing to President Yoon Suk-yeol last week.

Park has briefed the president without thorough study and preparation. The ministry had said it planned to hold a public survey this year to test out the system from 2024 to introduce the new age from 2025.

Parents rushed to the education ministry to protest en masse. The idea has also been new to education superintendents responsible for elementary and secondary schooling across the country. Minister Park upset parents more by saying that the age system can pan out over 12 years by moving up one month each year.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo advised Park to listen to diverse voices from the education field so as not to cause public anxiety.

The presidential office also intervened. Ahn Sang-hoon, senior presidential secretary for social affairs, asked the education ministry to seek public opinion first and discuss the issue with the National Assembly because any reform process requires a debating process. Apparently liking the new idea at the briefing, President Yoon had ordered speedy expedition, according to the presidential office.

The legislature responded angrily to the process as the move requires an amendment in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The head of the Education Committee of National Assembly attacked the education minister for going public with the bold plan without any prior consultation with the legislature. Even some members of the governing People Power Party (PPP) raised questions on the ability of the education minister who has no background in education fields.

The ministry has scurried to meet with parents and discuss the issue with a number of superintendents in cities and provinces. But the harm has already been done. In a recent online poll, a majority — or 97.5 percent of parents, teachers and others — disapproved of the idea of advancing school starting age.

Instead of making matters worse, the education ministry must call off the idea. Minister Park said she could do away with the idea if the public strongly objects. But she must first apologize for causing unnecessary concern for parents and educators. The government must thoroughly look into the lead-up to the surprising briefing so that such fiascos do not happen again in policymaking.
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