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Rising kindergarten tuition despite gov`t aid

Posted March. 12, 2013 06:55,   


“Their Perfect Day,” a four-part KBS soap opera, ended Sunday. The mini-series was aired around midnight Sundays but had a high rating of nearly 10 percent in the Seoul metropolitan area. The story begins on the day of a Christmas event at a kindergarten for the top 1 percent of income earners in Seoul`s affluent Gangnam district, and shows how women’s excessive zeal for education could ruin themselves, their children and their relationships. The mini-series features four characters: Su-ah, who is ostracized after going from a working mom to a stay-at-home mom; Hye-ju, who pays excessive attention to her daughter to cover up her past as a call girl; Gyeong-hwa, whose husband is a professor but works as a broker for a private academy to cover her child’s private education expenses; and Mi-bok, who seems to have everything but has strained ties with her husband and makes her child uncomfortable with her distorted sense of love. All four women have one thing in common: they express their pain and desires on their children.

After visiting Hana Kindergarten, the luxury kindergarten featured in the mini-series, Su-ah is surprised at how high the tuition is. Including basic fees and extra expenses for math and English, the combined amount is 2 million won (1,824 U.S. dollars) per month. She registers to have her child enroll at the kindergarten, which claims getting a place there is as hard as winning a lottery. Moreover, mothers give luxury brand shoes and bags as gifts to teachers and provide goods necessary for events. Hana Kindergarten is not fiction, however. According to a public site for kindergartens, private kindergartens in the affluent Seoul districts of Gangnam, Seocho and Songpa charge more than 10 million won (9,124 dollars) in tuition per year. This is equivalent to the level of college tuition.

The average yearly tuition of a private kindergarten in Korea for five-year olds was 5.81 million won (5,301 dollars) as of last month, increased by 6.9 percent from September last year. The hike was far higher than consumer inflation of 2.2 percent last year. Government subsidies to children reached 200,000 won (182.4 dollars) a month last year and has gone up to 220,000 won (200 dollars) this year. The government also provides subsidies to private kindergartens of 250,000 won (228 dollars) per month per class for operating expenses and 400,000 won (365 dollars) per teacher for compensation. The state assistance is supposed to reduce the financial burden of parents, but this is not the case. Private kindergartens charge parents more through other courses and extra instruction in English and math.

Eventually, the government stepped in. The Education Ministry decided to revise the Early Childhood Education Act so that it can cap the increase in kindergarten tuition. The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education will audit private kindergartens that sharply raise tuition and investigate changes in tuition and the composition of kindergarten management committees. If problems are found, government financial assistance will cease. Kindergartens in Gangnam district tend to increase tuition particularly because parents want a better education than other kindergartens. As long as there are mothers like those in "Their Perfect Day," kindergartens will keep bending rules to raise tuition.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)