Why the Sudden Rush to Lower School Age?

      August 01, 2022 13:58

      Education Minister Park Soon-ae has informed President Yoon Suk-yeol that she wants to lower the elementary school age to five and been told to come up with the plans. She says that is magically going to reduce the academic achievement gap, but nobody has any idea how. The decision, which flies in the face of global trends, was not part of Yoon's campaign pledges and has not been mooted as a policy for some time. Park, who has absolutely no experience as an educator, only became education minister a month ago, so it seems unlikely that she has given the matter enough thought.

      One benefit to lowering the school age could be that young people enter the workforce earlier, which could relieve some pressure on the dwindling working-age population considering Korea's low birthrate and aging population. It could particularly help boys to join the workforce sooner once they complete their mandatory military service. It could also help decrease some public childcare costs spent on preschoolers and save parents time and money that would otherwise be spent caring for five-year-olds. Since parents in the cities rely heavily on crammers to teach their kids the things they should be taught at school, sending them to school a year earlier could help those in the provinces, where few preschool facilities are available, to catch up with kids in cities.

      But nobody seems to want it. Education experts say five-year-olds have a shorter attention span and need to be taught through games and group activities instead of the lectures that still largely characterize classroom teaching here. But phasing in an earlier school age by reducing the primary school entry age by three months at a time would in fact increase numbers in class by up to 25 percent, which makes it even less likely that the young ones would get the attention they need. At the other end, a 25-percent increase in the number of students per year will intensify competition for university entrance and jobs.

      It seems unlikely that parents will accept the proposal. The Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Myung-bak administrations also sought to lower the elementary school entry age but gave up soon enough amid opposition from some 10,000 kindergartens that would lose a significant number of paying charges. That may not be a good enough reason to abandon the idea, but it shows that drastic changes of this kind are hard to achieve unless they are preceded by meticulous planning and preparation.

      And there has clearly been no planning at all. After hastily announcing the decision without prior discussions with the public, the government says it is now forming a taskforce to do the sweaty work. This kind of chaotic policymaking could make it even more unpopular.

      Read this article in Korean

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