South Korea’s Education Minister Steps Down Amid Uproar Over Plan to Lower School Entry Age

South Korea’s Education Minister Steps Down Amid Uproar Over Plan to Lower School Entry Age
South Korean elementary school students wear masks as a precaution against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrom virus at an elementary school in Busan, South Korea, on June 9, 2015. (Cha Geun-ho/Yonhap via AP)
Aldgra Fredly

South Korea’s education minister tendered her resignation on Monday following a backlash against proposed changes to school policy, which included lowering the admission age for elementary school.

Education Minister Park Soon-ae resigned after 34 days in office, just two weeks after the ministry said it would lower the elementary school entry age to 5 years old by 2025 upon social consensus.

“My latest policies were all for the benefit of our country’s citizens,” Park said at a press briefing, The Korea Times reported. “But clearly I fell short of expectations.”

Park was criticized for announcing the proposed policy without seeking public opinion. The public was also opposed to her plan to abolish foreign language high schools.

The plan to lower the elementary school entry age was aimed at increasing the workforce in South Korea—which is facing a declining birth rate—as it would enable students to graduate and embark on their careers earlier.

However, teachers and parents have come out against the move over concerns that it will push intellectually unprepared children to attend school.

The proposed policy led 36 civic groups to rally in front of the presidential office, demanding that it be scrapped. They also launched an online petition to gather public signatures in favor of the policy withdrawal.

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.

Ministry Hints at Policy Withdrawal

Vice Education Minister Jang Sang-yoon said Tuesday that the plan to lower the elementary school starting age may be scrapped as it has become “realistically difficult to push ahead with it” given its unpopularity among the public.

“It’s hard to say right now at this place that we are going to scrap it and will no longer push for it. But we’ve determined that it has become realistically difficult to push ahead with it,” Jang said.

This extra year of early childhood education is part of policies put forward in the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which encourage countries to offer children “at least one year of free and compulsory quality pre-primary education.”

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.

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