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Cold Hearted Goshiwons

Posted December. 07, 2004 22:53,   


Goshiwons (places to study for exams), which are used by 200,000-300,000 examinees and university students nationwide, are facing a threat of being shut down. The government has asked them to change their business model to reading rooms or lodging when it announced goshiwons as illegal in the fear of accidents such as fire.

To this, goshiwon owners are refusing to do so, saying, “Due to the government’s unrealistic measure, most of the goshiwons will have to close.”

The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW) produced a goshiwon management measure last April, which states that goshiwons in resident areas should change to reading rooms and those in commercial areas should change their industry classification to lodging.

In other words, they want to part the current goshiwon roles of providing a place for both studying and sleeping. The MHW, after a year of guidance, will go into a control period from next April.

The government’s measure is the product of a fire in Suwon’s goshiwon in January, which killed four people. This accident came up as a social issue.

Most of the goshiwons have reformed big offices into “bee hive” small rooms. This caused fire to move easily to the next room, and the fact that most goshiwons do not have basic safety amenities such as emergency bells, lights, and gas alarms worried many.

Goshiwon owners acknowledge the government’s intent for safety enforcement, but they say that changing goshiwons into reading rooms or lodging is unrealistic.

Although they want to change to lodging, less than one percent of goshiwons in commercial areas can do this because of the approval standards based on distance from schools and the size of the parking lot. This is because many goshiwons, unlike motels and other lodging, are situated near schools.

Furthermore, goshiwons in resident areas, which constitute 95 percent of all goshiwons, say that if they are changed to reading rooms where no sleeping facilities are allowed, there will be no customers. Sohn Nam-sik, chairman of the Shillim Goshiwon Development Measure Committee, said, “The government only needs to add an industry called ‘goshiwon’ and enforce the safety measure. I do not know why they are forcing us to change our industry.”

Kang Chang-woo, chairman of Korea Goshiwon Association, said, “If goshiwons shut down, many poor students and citizens will have no place to sleep and will have to go out into the streets.”

To this, the MHW’s Disease Policy Department’s Oh Oon-sung said, “We fully understand the owners’ opinion. We will seek further for complementary policies.”

Jong-Dae Ha Kang-Myoung Chang orionha@donga.com tesomiom@donga.com