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Elementary school entry age to be lowered to five

Education Minister Park Soon-ae briefs reporters at the presidential office in Seoul on Friday, after giving a policy briefing to President Yoon Suk-yeol. (Yonhap)
Education Minister Park Soon-ae briefs reporters at the presidential office in Seoul on Friday, after giving a policy briefing to President Yoon Suk-yeol. (Yonhap)

Starting as early as 2025, all children in South Korea will likely be allowed to enter elementary school one year earlier, according to an education ministry report Friday.

Reporting this year's key policy plans to President Yoon Suk-yeol, the ministry said it will soon begin full-fledged discussions on lowering the school starting age from six to five.

Yoon told Education Minister Park Soon-ae during the policy report to "quickly come up with measures to lower the school starting age by a year while maintaining the 12-year school system from elementary to high school," deputy presidential spokesperson Lee Jae-myoung said during a press briefing.

The ministry said the lowering of the school entry age by one year is expected to go into effect in 2025 at the earliest if there is social consensus.

Despite the planned school age change, the nation's current 6-3-3-4 education system -- six years in elementary school, three years each in middle school and high school, and four years in university -- will remain unchanged, the ministry said. Under the system, the nine years of elementary and middle school are compulsory.

The ministry said the new school age system, if finalized, will be gradually enforced over a period of four years in consideration of limitations in the supply of teachers and school space.

"At first, an enforcement period of two years was proposed for the new school age system, but the proposal was abandoned due to an enormous possible confusion," Park, the education minister, said. She said whether parents will agree to the new school age system is another variable and her ministry will fully listen to the opinions of school officials, education experts and parents.

The minister also said the government will push to integrate kindergartens and child care centers, which are now separately supervised by the education and health ministries, respectively.

Child care centers usually accept children who are several months old to five years of age, while kindergartens usually accept children from three years old to around pre-school age.

The integration of the two institutions has long been discussed as part of efforts to narrow social disparities.

Other policy plans unveiled by the education ministry include strengthening education support for people with disabilities, creating 444 new school classes for multicultural students, providing customized mentoring to the children of North Korea defectors and fostering 1 million digital professionals by 2027 through the establishment of additional vocational high schools, known as "meister" schools, and specialized high schools.

Yoon asked the minister to work hard to foster digital professionals and to come up with ways to ease regulations and support the nurturing of professionals needed in cutting-edge industries.

He also called for ensuring fair access to education across social groups, increasing variety in educational institutions and curricula, and an overall review of the education system with the rapid decline in student numbers in mind. (Yonhap)

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