Wednesday, January 19, 2011

영어선생 Hall of Shame Entry #8: Banning English Kindergartens Is A New, Dumb Law

The Korean Government Gains an Entry Into the 영어선생 Hall of Shame
The Korean Government has handled educational policy very poorly for a very long time.  That said, it is a very complex problem. On one hand, the fact is that learning English is important.  This fact is unlikely to change anytime soon.  The Seoul Gyopo Guide has stated it on a number of occasions.   On the other hand, Korea is trying to promote a society which promotes social mobility in which the economically challenged still have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.  It has done so clumsily, and yet another example has exhibited itself.

Korea to Ban "English Kindergartens."  
Today, this story appeared in the Korea Herald.  These are selected excerpts from the article.

“According to the law, English is excluded from regular kindergarten curriculum. Some hagwon operators have been providing English programs in the form of regular nursery education, misleading the parents and their children,” a ministry official said.

The bill aims to crack down on hagwon that pretend that they are also licensed kindergartens.

“Since (some kindergartens) are registered as private institutes rather than regular kindergartens, they are not subjected to government regulations on fees,” he said.

The qualification of the facilities was also brought into question. Recently, a mass food poisoning took place in an “English pre-school” in affluent southern Seoul. Investigators said the operators had served outdated foods and admitted that tight hygiene regulations were not applied to hagwon. 

This is a Public Policy Issue, Not A Legal Issue
This law is to try to ban English kindergartens in order to prevent the children of the wealthy from getting a head start.  Anything else is a ruse.  Read the reasons in the article, where the government officials point out that there are problems with hagwons that are representing themselves as kindergartens.  The article continues to mention that there may be health issues at some of these "English Kindergartens."
If any of that were true, the correct remedy would be better enforcement of the existing law, not a new law that bans "English Kindergartens."  If hygiene were the problem, and parents were upset, then the parents have the right to address the matter with the hagwon directly.  There is a Korean term for this which is "치마바람" which is literally the "skirt's wind," but in reality means that mothers will try to get an edge for the well-being of their children.  In other words, the consumers (mothers) could, and would, effectively punish that individual hagwon if there were really a problem. If there were such a thing as consumers' rights in Korea, then this would be effective, and that particular English Kindergarten would be effectively put out of business. 

Either the government is acknowledging that its existing laws are poor and inadequately enforced, or there is something else at the heart of the matter.  The Seoul Gyopo Guide believes that it is the latter:  the Korean Government is trying to change its public policy under the guise of accusing hagwons of doing things that were originally illegal.

This article is far too short.   The Korean Government is having difficulty in trying to level the playing field among the economically privileged and economically challenged.  Its measures to date have been a total failure due to poor planning and poorer execution.  It is another example of two central themes of the Seoul Gyopo Guide.
From previous posts, the Seoul Gyopo Guide has pointed out the following:
It is the notion that the law is subject to change on the whim of parliament due to market pressure or political opinion that is the problem.  Secondly, Korea has deserved its place among a very few privileged nations, but its social and legal structure must match its fully-developed economy.

There are other problems that this law creates, such as the fact that investors, once again, cannot invest in business in Korea with any confidence, because the law changes at the whim of the government that is in power at that point in time.  This is very similar to the bond investors' case, and the KEB debacle.  The law changed on investors after the investment had already been established.  In this respect, Korea compares very unfavorably to Japan (that is a quite an admission from The Lost Seoul indeed).  In any case, the Korean Government, somewhat unsurprisingly, has earned its place in the 영어선생 Hall of Shame.

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