The Korea Herald


Bigger kindergarten grants promised for 5-year-olds

By 김소현

Published : May 2, 2011 - 19:07

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The Seoul government on Monday said it will pay 300,000 won per month for pre-school education of 5-year-olds from 2016, extending the state-funded compulsory education period by a year to 10 years.

Currently, public elementary (six years) and middle school (three years) education in Korea is free, whereas the government provides 177,000 won per month for pre-school education or childcare of 5-year-olds of low-income families.

“The state support for pre-school education will be increased to 200,000 won per month for all families with 5-year-olds next year and gradually increased,” Education Minister Lee Ju-ho told reporters in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik and Welfare Minister Chin Soo-hee.

“The plan is designed to greatly reduce the parents’ burden of education of 5-year-olds and improve the quality of private kindergartens and nurseries which are generally dissatisfactory compared to public kindergartens.”

The government’s decision to cover pre-school education costs comes as part of efforts to keep the birthrates from falling further.

Korea’s birthrate has continued to drop from 2.82 in 1980 to 1.57 in 1990, 1.47 in 2000 and 1.15 in 2009, the lowest among 34 member countries of the OECD, according to a recently issued OECD report titled “Doing Better for Families.” High housing and private education costs have been cited as the main reasons for Korea’s birthrate decline which is turning Korea into an aging society. The OECD average is 1.74.

Observers are not sure if the expanded financial aid is expected to turn the tide of declining birth rate.

“The government’s plan will improve the quality of childcare service and therefore help keep the birthrates from falling in the long term, but we don’t know if it will have a direct effect (on birth rates),” said Lee Mee-jung, president of the Korean Society for Study of Child Education and Care.

“Support for children aged 4 or younger would have a direct impact on the birthrate. State aid for this age group should be carefully planned based on the results of the new policy for 5-year-olds.”

Under the plan unveiled Monday, all 5-year-olds (those born in 2006 or later) who go to kindergartens or nurseries will go through the same curriculum.

The Education Ministry will pay for the increased pre-school aid of between 800 billion and 1.1 trillion won each year until 2016.

About 400,000 5-year-olds who will go to kindergartens or nurseries next year will be the first beneficiaries of the new measure.

The new aid scheme will not apply to about 40,000 kids who go to expensive English-language kindergartens or whose parents choose not to send them to kindergartens at all.

President Lee Myung-bak on Monday instructed officials to pay greater attention to caring for neglected people who are ineligible for the state welfare system for technical and other reasons.

“In our society, there are people who are left unattended in the blind areas of the welfare system mostly because their place of residence is unclear,” Lee said at a weekly meeting with senior secretaries, according to presidential spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung.

Lee said the government should launch an all-out inspection to identify such people and provide them with better state care, Kim said.

By Kim So-hyun (