SEOUL – Choi Young-eun is so concerned about her teenagers’ education as South Korea’s schools stay shut that she has been sending them to a private tuition center to make sure they don’t miss out.
Choi, a stay-at-home mom of two high schoolers, is one of the millions of parents keeping South Korea’s cut-throat “hagwon”, or cram schools, in business even as the government imposes tighter restrictions on gatherings in a bid to contain a major coronavirus outbreak.
“It would be nice if hagwons were completely shut and students don’t have to go altogether because I don’t want my kids to be the ones missing out,” Choi told Reuters.
South Korea has delayed the beginning of the school year by about a month as Asia’s fourth-largest economy grapples with the virus that has infected more than 9,600 of its people and killed almost 160.
The government has urged people to stay at home and maintain social distancing, but none of this has dented the enthusiasm for cram schools, part of a $17 billion dollar private tuition industry that Koreans believe sets students up for a placement at an elite university and life-long success.
Data from the Seoul government showed that nine out of 10 of these schools were open last week, an increase from mid-March when 60 percent were running.
“Many parents called us and asked for classes to restart,” said Lim Sung-ho, chief-executive of Jongro Academy, one of the largest hagwon franchises in Korea with some 6,000 students.
Like other schools, Jongro shut