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Social dispute over new school admission age

Posted August. 01, 2022 07:54,   

Updated August. 01, 2022 07:54


The government announced plans to lower the elementary school admission age to the age of five, effective from the year 2025. Education Minister Park Soon-ae reported the plan at the briefing to President Yoon Suk-yeol on Saturday. "The change will be made as a national effort to reduce educational gaps stemming from regional or individual situations," explained Park. The government plans to apply a gradual approach by assigning a certain ratio (25%) of students to start school at the age of five every year to minimize educational and hiring competition.

There have been ongoing social demands to revise the school system in line with demographic changes and labor market changes. Early graduation is likely to advance marriage and childbearing age. Longer working years mean increase in productive labor. Despite such advantages, the legal age of entering elementary at the age of six has stayed unchanged since the education law was established in 1949, as it would incur significant impact not only to the entire school system but also to overall society including business and military.

Therefore, it is incomprehensible that the ministry, despite knowing the scale of impact such a challenge would bring, has announced this plan in an unexpected manner. The reform had not been mentioned in President Yoon's campaign, nor included in national agenda. Reportedly, the plan had not been consulted with municipal education districts overseeing schools. Although changes to the interdisciplinary system directly impacts the curriculum, the ministry has not made a single comment about this and did not share an estimate on the budget the changes would bring.

Hastily planned policies that have not been shared ahead bring unnecessary conflict. Parents are concerned about the competition among different age groups and feel burdened about changes to childcare as elementary school hours end earlier than kindergarten afterschool hours. School teachers are faced with the challenge of teaching different age groups with varying developmental needs. Education groups are also resisting to the change, claiming that the policy was made without prior opinion gathering or consulting.

The education ministry is planning to run a public survey this year, put together a task force and start policy research. It is crucial that opinion gathering or policy research should be open-ended, not forced to conclude that the policy change should be made. The impact and adverse effects of the policy should be reviewed thoroughly to reduce any trials and errors. The change should not be made simply to gain productive labor. The education community should also do its part by participating in policy deliberation with open minds, mindful of social demands for a new school system meeting evolving social trends.