President Moon launches a free education plan

Families with children in high school would save US$ 1,400 a year. Free high school education comes with a US$ 1.75 billion price tag, shared by the central government and regional offices. For expert, without clarity on costs, the plan will fail.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – South Korea's Presidential Office, the government and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) agreed Tuesday that the country will provide free education to all high school students starting in 2021.

Free education for high school seniors will begin in the next fall semester and expand to students in their second and third years of high school next year. Currently, South Korea provides free education only to elementary and middle school students.

The detailed plan was made public at a meeting of officials from the Presidential Office (Cheong Wa Dae or Blue House), the Education Ministry and DPK lawmakers.

President Moon Jae-in and his administration have made free high school education a top priority in the education sector.

The ruling party said that 2 trillion won (US$ 1.75 billion) of funding will be needed every year if all high school students are to get free education.

If free education is expanded, a household with one high school student is expected to save 1.58 million won (US$ 1,400) per year, said Deputy Finance Minister Koo Yoon-cheol.

This could increase the disposable income of poor families by 130,000 won (US$ 130), said DPK floor leader Hong Young-pyo.

The ruling party said that it would do its best to get the National Assembly to pass the relevant legislation before the end of June.

Under the plan, all costs needed for free education in 2019 would be covered by education offices. In total, 17 city and provincial education offices would shoulder 946.6 billion won in 2021.

The government said that since superintendents agree on the need for free education and state subsidies will be provided, there should not be any problem in financing the project.

"I don't know if the time is ripe to implement such a plan," an education expert told AsiaNews. "Some see it as a populist political manoeuvre a year before the next general election.”

“The abolition of public school fees will benefit mainly poor families. The most affluent are used to sending their children to private schools where they can receive a better education."

"The previous government, led by President Park Geun-hye, had already tried to make high school education free. However, its plan failed because of the lack of financial resources.

"The bill presented today is the result of one of the election promises made by Moon Jae-in, but it is considerably heavy on the coffers of both central and local governments.

“The basic idea is good; even the opposition generally agrees, but without a detailed picture of the financial coverage, it will be difficult for the measure to see the light of day,’ the expert explained.