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Govt. to survey spending on private education of preschoolers, Suneung retakers

South Korea's official data on parental spending for their children's education has long faced criticism for overlooking two significant aspects: expenditures prior to the commencement of public education and those occurring after its completion.

To address these concerns and better assess the financial burden on parents, the Ministry of Education plans to look into the cost of “private education” of preschool children and high school graduates who are studying to retake the national college entrance exam, known as the Suneung.

Private education in Korea refers to all forms of learning outside of the formal state curriculum.

The ministry said it will survey some 15,000 parents next year on how much they spend for their preschool children’s education outside of the regular Korean-language kindergartens that follow the state curriculum.

The ministry and Statistics Korea have produced estimates of nationwide spending on private education of elementary, middle and high school students since 2007. South Koreans are thought to have spent 26 trillion won ($19.5 billion) on private education for students of this demographic last year, up 10.8 percent from the previous year, according to data released in March.

Estimates for private education spending for preschoolers age 6 and under will be included by the government for the first time, as the local market for English-language kindergartens, which are legally registered as hagwon, and various other private education institutes grows rapidly. In Korea, children enter elementary school in March of the year they turn 7 years old.

The ministry plans to spend 560 million won to collect the data next year and announce the results in 2025, according to the minor opposition Justice Party’s analysis of the government budget.

“As the age of starting private education has been constantly decreasing, increasing the burden on parents, we are in urgent need of systematic action by examining the current state of private education for preschool children,” a ministry official said.

“The inquiry into the spending on private education of toddlers should be regularized to help build state education policies to reinforce public education and reduce the reliance on private education.”

The ministry also plans to spend 100 million won in developing a survey model next year for gathering data and calculating the nationwide expenditure on private education of high school graduates preparing to retake the Suneung.

Over the past six years, the number of high school students sitting for the annual exam has dropped from 444,873 in 2017 to 350,239 last year. Instead, the number of high school graduates who took the Suneung increased from 137,533 to 142,303 over the same period.

As for the retakers, known as “N-soosaeng,” or those taking Suneing for the Nth time, the ministry said it needs to collect the opinions of a wide range of experts as there are a variety of respondents in terms of age, the number of times they took Suneung, and whether they are studying by themselves or taking online courses.

“Spending on private education is not only an issue of education, but also a social problem linked to the pressure people feel for raising a child and low birth rates. So it is meaningful to conduct an inquiry into preschool children and N-soosaeng, which have been the blind spots of existing surveys,” said Song Kyung-won, a member of the Justice Party’s policy committee.

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