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Government may ban foreign teachers in preschool education

The Education Ministry is mulling over a proposal to ban English education institutes for preschoolers from hiring native speakers as teachers, officials said Wednesday.

“Hiring native speakers is a big reason why English language education fees are so high in Korea. After gathering public opinions, we will decide whether to continue the native speaker teacher system in institutes for preschoolers,” said a ministry official. Adding that specific details remain to be sorted out, such as the date for public hearing that has not yet been set.

If the ministry’s plan is approved by the National Assembly and related laws are revised, all English classes provided to children aged 3-5 will be subject to the ban.

The new measure will mainly affect English-language kindergartens and English private institutes for preschoolers, which have already come under scrutiny for their long class hours ― conducted exclusively in English ― and high fees. As of June, 292 English-language kindergartens are under operation across the country, and typically have both Korean and English native speakers as staff members.

English kindergartens charge an average of 793,000 won ($730) per month, considerably higher than the fees of private and public kindergartens ― ranging from 482,000 to 48,000 won.

The move is part of the government’s plan to curb the ever-soaring private education costs. According to the ministry, the amount of money spent per student receiving private education has been rising every year, increasing from 288,000 won in 2007 to 347,000 in 2013.

A major portion of the plan is focused on English and math, which account for 34 percent and 31 percent respectively of the country’s 18.6 trillion won private education market.

The ministry said it would also focus on enhancing the quality of English education in schools. It will provide training courses for school faculty while creating online or mobile education programs for students to use. In addition, math and English section in the government-backed EBS Suneung programs will undergo changes to reduce the workload of students.

Civic groups on education, however, voiced doubts over the effectiveness of the government measures.

“The Education Ministry has acknowledged that the fundamental reason behind the growth of private education is the university pecking order and the score-based college entrance system, yet its plans to only address the issue on the surface level,” said Ha Byung-soo, the spokesman of the Korea Teachers and Education Workers’ Union.

To find a fundamental solution for the rising private education costs, the government should start by addressing the hierarchy of education institutes in Korea, he said.

By Yoon Min-sik (