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01/23/2018 Special > Special


[Op-Ed] Is Banning the Early Education Really Necessary?

The Korean government trying to ban after-school English education for pre-schoolers


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Korea is known to have excessive enthusiasm towards education, and one of the very first private forms of education children receive is English. Nevertheless, the Korean government, alongside with the Ministry of Education is working hard to ban early education, which usually refers to private education for children under 8, which is when elementary school begins. As part of the effort, the Ministry of Education announced in December 2017 that they will ban after-school English classes for pre-schoolers starting March 2018. This ignited the already existing conflict of interests between the parents wanting to teach English to their child as early and as fast as possible, and the government trying to restrict such actions and protect young children’s rights. 


It is somewhat a norm for pre-school children to learn English. There are even English kindergartens where they intensively use English throughout the day.


To provide some background information, children aging from five, or sometimes as young as two to three, go to either pre-school (what is known as yoo-chi-won in Korean) or a daycare center (which is known as uh-lin-eeh-jib in Korean). It might sound similar, but they are established under different laws and operate under different ministries. The former has its foundation under the Early Childhood Education Act, and the Ministry of Education supervises and manages 9,029 pre-schools all over the nation. On the other hand, the daycare centers are founded and are operating based on the Infant Care Act, and managed by Ministry of Health and Welfare. But the Lee Myung-bak administration contrived the Noori Curriculum (the name itself was created during the former Park Geun-hye administration) through the amendment of Enforcement Decree of the Infant Care Act, article 23 to take a step forward towards free education for children from three to five. 


This is how the Ministry of Education can prohibit after-school English education in the curriculums of both pre-school and daycare centers. This annunciation, as anyone can easily expect, triggered a heated debate within the nation. Many parents are against the policy and show concern on the balloon effect, which refers to a situation where the phenomena moves into another area of less resistance rather than disappearing, like when a latex balloon is squeezed: The air is moved but does not disappear. They voice out that early English education is not an option anymore, so banning it in the pre-schools and daycare centers would simply herd the children to private institutions, which are more expensive and, therefore, put more burden on families. They also argue that early education is the key to language education and that most of the after school classes for English are taught through playing, such as singing or gaming. Some even mention that the Ministry of Education has to also take back the resembling restriction for the first and second-grade elementary school students. 


Although they did take a step back, the government seems to remain obstinate in their position regarding early education. Announcing for the entire reexamination of the policy on the 16th of January, the Ministry of Education made it clear that there still is no change in their principle that early education should be restricted. Their argument is mainly based on recent findings in neuroscience that early education, in fact, does not help the infants or young children to learn a second language. Numerous studies, namely from the Korean Institute of Child Care and Education, have shown that children, equally at best, absorb less of a new language. Therefore, the government seems to consider after-school education as a physical and psychological burden for young minds and should be restricted by law. 

Korea is one of the top countries with the most private education per person.


However, as an individual who speaks English through early education and without a single month abroad, I think it is a matter of ‘how’ pre-schools deliver the education than ‘if’ they should. One of the main reasons why the Ministry of Education took a step back, in this case, was because people pointed out that the way the education carried out in the field is not child-abusive as they think it is. Many children are actually having fun learning a new language in an entertaining way, and it is vastly beneficial for their future being able to speak English fluently, especially considering the quality of English education in the current school curriculum. The way they are being taught right now, the children will be ‘acquiring’ English rather than ‘learning’ it.

Without significant innovation of the current school curriculum to be actually effective, banning pre-school extracurricular activity seems like a tape to a dam crack. If they truly wish to tackle the widespread enthusiasm for early education, the government should first explain thoroughly and persuade the people, strengthen public education, and then ban both public and private early education. Wishing parents to suddenly stop being thirsty for more education like a child waiting for Santa Claus does not solve the root issue.

Kim So-yun

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