Time to rectify overspending on education
Korean parents are famous worldwide for their zeal for education. The country’s rapid economic development has been thanks in large part to their lavish spending on education. Ironically enough, however, this high education fever is increasingly putting Korean households in trouble.
The Hyundai Research Institute, a Seoul-based private think tank, classified 824,000 households as the so-called “education poor.” These families borrowed money to pay for the children’s education and chronically spent more than the parents could earn. They account for 13 percent of the 6.32 million households that reported spending on private education last year.
These households usually struggle with excessive education-related expenses and 73.3 percent of them belong to the middle class. To our surprise, many of these families are led by a main bread winner in his or her 40s who had a college degree.
The “education poor” households earned 3.13 million won a month on average, 1.2 million won less than the 4.33 million won earned by other households that spent money on private education. These households spent about 3.81 million won a month, much more than their income due to excessive education expenses.
According to the institute, while ordinary households spent 512,000 won on education per month, these “education poor’’ families poured in 868,000 won, roughly 28.5 percent of their earnings.
The striking feature of the “education poor” is that more households have no other alternative but to cut expenses from their daily expenditures or fall into debt. And the consequences are that an increasing number of middle-class families are crumbling under the burden of private education spending.
At a time when the nation is beset with a slowing economy and widening polarization, the “education poor,’’ a newly-coined expression, will mirror the true picture of our society along with the “working poor’’ and the “house poor.’’
A survey released by the same institute last week showed that more than half of Koreans (50.1 percent) classified themselves as belonging to the low-income class. This figure was more than triple the actual percentage computed by Statistics Korea. In contrast, 46.4 percent thought they belonged to the middle class, less than the 64 percent calculated by the statistics office.
The “education inflation’’ stems from the excessive spending on private education by parents. In Korea where one is discriminated against depending on whether he or she graduated from college regardless of ability, parents mobilize all means available to send their children to prestigious universities. It’s alarming that 85.6 percent of education expenses by the “education poor’’ families results from their children in middle and high school receiving private education. This means that more households are eliminated from the middle-class bracket due to the excessive burden of private education.
Solutions won’t be easy to find. Yet, in order to lay the groundwork for the country’s sustainable development, our overspending problems in education should be rectified as soon as possible. In particular, it would be urgent to reduce demand for private education by upgrading public education. Now is the time for parents to change their mindset on getting a college degree.