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Opinion

[Editorial] Private education

According to Statistics Korea, aggregate household spending on private education dropped for the first time in 2010. Data shows that Korean parents spent a total of 20.9 trillion won last year on educating their children at private institutions, down 3.5 percent from a year ago.

What does this imply? Does it mean the incumbent government’s war against private education has started to pay off? The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology says so. But it is still too early to view it that way.

Last year’s drop followed a significant slowdown in the growth rate of aggregate private education expenses in 2009. While spending grew by over 10 percent a year in the preceding years, the growth rate dropped to 3.4 percent in 2009. The negative growth in 2010 suggests the 2009 figure could be a peak. If so, we can expect a downward slope down the road.

This expectation is supported by the decline in the number of students due to the continued low birth rate in Korea. In fact, last year’s fall in private education spending was largely the result of a drop in the number of students. According to the Education Ministry, the number of elementary, middle school and high school students totaled 7.24 million last year, a reduction of 210,000 or 2.8 percent from a year earlier.

But even after the fall in the number of students is taken into account, per-student spending on private education fell last year. The drop, however, was almost negligible ― from 242,000 won in 2009 to 240,000 won in 2010. Nevertheless, it led the Education Ministry to claim that its measures have started to work.

To curb expenditure on tutoring, the ministry has introduced an array of measures, including a ban on private institutes from offering lessons to students after 10 p.m. and activation of after-school programs. The ministry needs to make sustained efforts to ensure that per-student spending on private education continues its downward curve.
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