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[Newsmaker] South Korea to review banning English education for preschoolers

Nine months after proposing a ban on English classes in kindergartens, the government is set to review related policies next month, as parents have complained that the move will only widen the education gap in a market led by pricey private pre-schools that teach in English.

Last year, the Education Ministry forbid public elementary schools from teaching English to first and second graders during affordable after-school classes.

The action was based on a special law on normalizing public education and prohibiting teaching ahead of the regular public curriculum. Under the government-set curriculum, English is taught from third grade.
South Korean children attend a kindergarten class in Seoul (Yonhap)
South Korean children attend a kindergarten class in Seoul (Yonhap)

As the special law applies to only elementary, middle and high schools, however, teaching English in kindergartens is still legal.

For the sake of consistency, the government proposed in December banning the teaching of English as part of after-school activities in kindergartens, but it has deferred the plan until after thorough policy deliberation led by relevant, designated agencies.

With English skills an important factor in finding jobs or pursuing other personal goals in Korea, the proliferation of private English-immersion institutions for preschool children, known as “English kindergartens,” has made more parents want to send their toddlers to the relatively costly schools.

Many regular kindergartens that follow the government’s public school curriculum provide English classes as part of after-school activities.

If the government acknowledges English learning as part of after-school activities as legit, calls will mount to allow English lessons for first and second graders provided at elementary schools after regular school hours.

Pending at the National Assembly is a revised bill that stipulates that the prohibition of teaching in advance of the government curriculum is not applicable to after-school programs provided at public schools.

Education Minister nominee Yoo Eun-hye noted during a parliamentary confirmation hearing that the ban on after-school English lessons for first and second graders runs against the demands of the education sector.

“I will look into the demands of the education sector and find ways to bridge the regional gap in education,” she said.

By Kim So-hyun (