The South Korean government has proposed lowering the entry age for elementary school to 5 years old in an effort to tackle workforce shortages, but the move has raised concerns among teachers and civic groups.
Park said the plan would help to increase the workforce in South Korea—which is facing a declining birth rate—given that it would enable students to graduate and embark on their careers earlier.
But teachers and parents have come out against the move over concerns that it will push intellectually unprepared children to attend school.
A total of 36 civic groups protested in front of the presidential office on Monday to demand that the proposal be scrapped. They also launched an online petition to collect signatures from the public.
One of the civic groups argued that requiring 5-year-olds to attend elementary school is "inappropriate" following the degree of "cognitive and emotional development" of young children.
"It could also have negative side effects, such as advancing the starting age for competition for college entrance and private education," the group said.
A Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union representative said the plan appears to disregard the development of young children, saying that they should be allowed to develop "through play and networking with friends."
Combining Day Care and KindergartenIn addition to lowering the elementary school entry age, the ministry also aims to push for the integration of kindergartens and child care centers, a concept that had been explored by the previous administration.
Under the current school system, children aged 5 years and below can attend Health Ministry-supervised care centers, while children aged 3 to 5 years can attend Education Ministry-supervised kindergartens.
Park said that her ministry has reached "mutual grounds for understanding" with related parties about the integration.
In June, the Australian states of Victoria and New South Wales implemented an extra year of "play-based learning" for young children as part of what the state premiers have called "the greatest transformation of early education in a generation."
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and his New South Wales counterpart Dominic Perrottet announced the “long-term policy commitment” in a joint statement, saying that the move would benefit many working families.