By Jung Min-ho
Some regional education offices have decided to reduce the number of native speaking English teachers at public schools in an apparent bid to help local governments secure money for free childcare programs.
The job cuts come amid growing disputes between the central and municipal governments over who should pay for free childcare and preschool education for children under five years old, which was a key campaign pledge of President Park Geun-hye.
Local governments are moving to scale down other projects to secure a budget for the troubled programs amid complaints from the affected parents. In line with this, regional education offices are cutting jobs for native teachers.
The Incheon Metropolitan City Office of Education said Thursday it has cut next year's budget for employing native language teachers at its elementary, middle and high schools by 5.4 billion won ($4.9 million).
This means that 76 out of 180 English teachers and 22 Chinese teachers in Incheon will lose their jobs next year, with only 9 billion won allocated for 126 teachers.
The education office in Daegu has also decided to reduce the number of its native language teachers to 323 in 2015, down from 443 this year.
The North Chungcheong Province Education Office also plans to cut its native teachers to 113 from the current 308.
Early this month, superintendents of regional educational offices agreed on allocating part of their budget for free childcare, after the central government pushed ahead with the populist programs without any specific plans to finance them from the nationals budget.
Native language teachers are not the only ones hit by the push.
Although the Incheon education office will have a 2.78 trillion won budget, 80 billion won more than this year, it is planning to cancel 387 projects, including mathematical contests and more sex education for students. It will also limit spending on 982 other projects.
The office said the spending for free childcare and expenses for its workers have increased much more than the additional budget.
Last month, Rep. Yun Jae-ok from the ruling Saenuri Party pointed out that the problem of fewer language teachers has been getting more serious over the past years.
He said 81.9 percent of 11,368 elementary, middle and high schools nationwide had at least one native English-speaking teacher in 2012. Only 65.1 percent of the schools have a native teacher today.
Some observers say fewer native language teachers mean less opportunity for students whose parents cannot afford such education at private institutes.
An Incheon education official said it had to reduce the number of native language teachers due to the "urgent situation." He also noted that it would be difficult to recover the number until the central government comes up with measures to cover the costs.