Rising Private Education Costs Hit Working-Class Families
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Working-class families are facing a headache with soaring household spending on private education as expensive private tutoring may cause their children to inherit their parents' social and economic status, a series of recent documents indicated.
Due to soaring private education costs, children from low-income families face a new dilemma as their parents are unable to afford expensive private lessons. As a result, these children will fall behind at school.
Prof. Baek Sun-geun of the Department of Education at Seoul National University told The Korea Times that the education authority should introduce a series of measures to nurture competition in public schools.
``The poorly designed education policy under the past administration has only created a race to the bottom in public schools,'' Baek said.
He continued, ``Parents have lost confidence in public education and seek out private education. This causes severe competition among students, as well as facilitating the collapse of public education.''
The professor suggested the key to tackling soaring private education costs was to foster competition among teachers and public schools.
Competition will make public schools stronger, he added.
``If parents have confidence in public education and conclude that their children can achieve a high academic performance as long as they work hard in class, they will not attempt to spend their money on private lessons,'' he said.
Soaring household spending on private education
The latest National Statistical Office (NSO) survey found that education costs rose by 6 percent last year from a year ago, the highest since 1997.
This rise is significant, given that the average overall price increase was merely 2.4 percent from last year.
Rising tuition for private institutes such as kindergarten enrollment fees played a critical role in raising education costs.
Rep. Lee Kyung-sook of the United New Democratic Party (UNDP) said that there is a positive relationship between rising private education fees and the presence of elite high schools such as foreign language and science high schools.
Lee said the combined admittance rate to Seoul National University (SNU) in 2006 of graduates from foreign language high schools was 6.7 percent of the total.
Given that the fact that there are only 29 foreign language high schools nationwide, the rate is salient.
Other data showed that 88 percent of high school graduates from six foreign language high schools in Seoul were admitted to the top five prestigious universities.
The majority of those who were admitted to these elite schools had previously attended private institutions that tend to charge high education fees.
The story does not end with high costs for entering quality programs.
A document from the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development last year showed that tuition at these prestigious high schools was 2.6 times higher than normal public high schools.
According to data, each family having a child attending a foreign language high school could pay more than 5 million won in tuition fees per year, while the comparable figure for other public high schools is between 2 and 2.1 million won.
Some parents need to make much higher payments when their children board at the school.
Park Ji-eun, 41, in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, is the mother of two sons.
Her eldest son was admitted to a foreign language school in Seoul this year and her second son, a third year middle school student, is now working hard to prepare for admission to an elite high school next year.
``My second son is as smart as the first one and now he is working very hard to enter a foreign language high school next year,'' she said.
The proud mom, however, had worries because of her bright kids.
She is not sure if she can manage the tuition and additional costs once her second son is admitted to the high school.
Park said she expects to spend an average of 1.8 million won for her first son after he goes to high school in March. Her son is scheduled to be a boarder.
Park's family is middle class, but she said she is not sure if she can sponsor two boys attending foreign language high schools, which would require her to pay approximately 3.6 million won per month.
Education Divide Between Children from Middle, Working Class
Her situation is not so bad as she could manage her finances by drastically reducing her family's spending to send her two sons to elite high schools.
Working class families are fearing the mounting private education fees and some feel stress about their children's high school tuition fees.
Yoo Hee-jin, 43, Junggok-dong, Seoul, is the mother of two children attending middle schools. Her son is scheduled to go to high school in March.
Her daughter is two years younger than her son and is going to be a second year middle school student in March.
Yoo is an on-call based homemaker and her husband works in apartment security.
After her husband's self-owned business dramatically declined in 2000, she had to work to support the family along with her husband.
Yoo and her husband are non-standard workers and their combined average monthly income is usually below 2.5 million won.
Yoo said she is hard pressed not only by rising household spending on private education, but also by tuition for her son.
``The situation is going to get even worse after my son goes to high school. The private institute costs of her son doubled.
She paid about 250,000 won last year for her son's private institute courses for English, math and social sciences, but now she is paying for 600,000 won in comparison.
``I still have to pay the fees for my middle school daughter, which will be about 250,000 won per month,'' she said.
What makes her worry more is that she will be asked to pay school tuition fees of 2 million won per year for her son.
Yoo said she faces a dilemma where she won't be able to pay for her son's expensive private education and it will cause him to lose out in school.