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‘Ministry fails to rein in kindergarten tuition hike’

The South Korean government has failed to take appropriate measures to suppress the billowing tuition for English kindergartens, despite its pledge to reduce the increasing costs for private education, an opposition lawmaker said Thursday.

The Education Ministry rolled out sweeping measures to reduce the country’s private education spending in December, which included inducing private education institutions -- including kindergartens -- to cut their fees.

“I’ve found that the ministry didn’t do so much as to send a scrap of paper demanding local education offices reduce costs for English kindergartens,” said Rep. Jeong Jin-hoo of the minor opposition Justice Party, claiming that the notion of cutting costs for the kindergartens was glossed over by education offices across the country as a result.

Jeong also pointed out that the average fee for an English kindergarten was 751,000 won ($630) per month this year, an 8.5 percent climb from 692,000 won in 2013. Only 9 percent of the kindergartens cut fees while 33.2 percent had raised them.

The average monthly income for a Korean household in the second quarter of this year was 4.27 million won, according to Statistics Korea.

Seoul had the priciest English kindergartens at 1.01 million won, while institutes in the city of Gwangju saw the most drastic increase of 20.3 percent, from 219,000 to 263,500 won.

“The ministry promptly announced it would reduce costs for English kindergartens, and they did practically nothing. They should at least try to implement the policy they’ve announced,” said Jeong.

The rise in private education spending, particularly for children before they start compulsory education, has been causing concern in Korea. While the government has boasted that private spending dropped for the fifth straight year in 2014 to 18.2 trillion won, the amount of money spent per student had actually increased for the second consecutive year.

According to the Korea Institute of Child Care and Education, last year’s private education spending for children below the age of compulsory schooling jumped 22.2 percent to mark 3.2 trillion won.

Woo Cheon-shik, an official from the Korea Development Institute recently announced that the actual amount of money spent on private education may be much larger than the ministry’s estimate.

“Our analysis of the figures from Statistics Korea indicate that the annual private education spending is 32.9 trillion won, and is trending up,” he said in a seminar cohosted by the Finance Ministry’s Committee for the Mid/Long-term Strategy and the presidential National Economic Advisory Council.

Woo warned that the bloating private education costs can widen the already considerable disparity between haves and have-nots in terms of money they spend on education. The top 10 percent of income earners in Korea spend on average 16 times more money on their children’s private education than the bottom 10 percent, according to local civic group A World Without Worries About Private Education.

With parents spending more on their children’s education, Korea has seen a surge in the “edu-poor” in recent years, which refers to those who have become poor due to their children’s education costs.

By Yoon Min-sik

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Korea Herald daum