Private School Obsession Spreads to Early Childhood Education

The latest development in the ultra-competitive world of Korean education is private schooling for toddlers and infants. In recent years, Korea’s private education system has attracted praise from The Wall Street Journal and scorn from Koreans themselves, and has suffered increasingly stiff regulation related to college entrance exam preparation. In comparison, textbooks, home-schooling, and education software aimed at infants is a relatively undeveloped and unrestricted market.

Koreans are divided when it comes to the importance of private schooling for children who haven’t even had their first day of public school. While comments online were almost unanimously critical of the idea, they also acknowledged the difficulty facing parents who go against the trend and don’t put their young children through private school classes.

An iPad application for teaching English to infants. The program is saying, “Hello children! Welcome to Magic Nanny world. Let’s push each button, saying watermelons, cherries, bananas, and blueberries.”

Article from Segye Ilbo:

Mega-Corporations Have an Eye on Infant Education Market

Megastudy, Daesung diversify their business and target younger children..

by Yoon Jeero

There is a new target market for private education. Government regulations have restricted college entrance exam prep classes, notably through greater reliance on public tools like EBS, but they have had the unintended effect of driving education companies toward the market for infants and preschoolers. Some experts worry that the infant education market, which was already squeezed due to the general decrease in the infant and elementary child population, will become a battlefield. The fallout from the intense competition could negatively affect parents and their children.

Megastudy, the top provider of private education for middle and high school students, has recently had its eye on the infant educational content market. Last year, it hired Choi Bongsu, former president of Woongjin ThinkBig, considered the best when it comes to the infant book market. Megastudy is seeking a foothold in the infant education market as it has reported its first year of negative growth since the company was first established. The slowdown is due to the increasing trend of selecting questions for college entrance exam from EBS books (nearly seventy percent of test content is taken from these low-price textbooks). As its growth rate slows, it has started to earnestly seek business diversification.

Daesung hagwon, which targeted only college prep students for nearly fifty years, has designed educational programs for curious young students, including preschool children, and launched a textbook instructing elementary school students on how to write history essays. Language institutes such as Chungdahm and Jeongsang JLS, which were targeting elementary and middle school students, have also launched English books, teaching aids, and electronic pen software for infants.

In addition, companies which have already been focusing on the preschool and elementary market are also looking at younger age groups. Kyowon, known for the home-school book “Red Pen”, launched a home visit program encouraging interaction between a mother and a baby between the ages of zero and two years.

Despite cutthroat competition among private education companies for the infant education market, the rate of growth for the market overall remains low due to a decreasing infant population. The sales of home-school books for the top four education companies have remained stagnant at ₩2 trillion ($1.8 billion) since 2007.

According to an employee at a college exam prep school, “while we can’t move freely because of government regulations on secondary education, when it comes to infants and preschoolers, we actually receive a lot of support from the government. Therefore, we believe that products like smart software tools for infants are likely to expand in the future.”

Below, an illustration of the types of “anxiety marketing” used by private education companies throughout a child’s early life:

  • A home-school book salesperson says to mother who has a 3-year-old child, “These days, there are so many blanks in textbooks for elementary students. how will your child ever figure out all of the answers by himself?”
  • A director of an English hagwon says to a mother who has a 4-year-old child, “To prepare for university admissions, your child should start training in English essays and presentations from now on.”
  • A director of a playgroup hagwon says to a mother who has a 5-year-old child, “Your child has never gotten a teaching aid program? In comparison with his other friends who got training from X company, your child’s recognition of patterns is lacking.”
  • A director of an English hagwon says to a mother who has a 5-year-old child who studied for over two years in America, “In our hagwon, there are lots of children who have lived in America. Your child should study more and then we can allow him to get in.”
  • A chief of counseling for an English hagwon says to a mother who has a 6-year-old child, “Your child can’t understand English at all. I think your method of teaching him only with home-school books has ruined his ability. Why have you neglected your children?”
  • A pediatric psychiatrist says to a mother who has a 7-year-old child who speaks slowly, “You shouldn’t expect your child to study well. He needs constant therapy.”

marketing of private education

Comments from Nate:


These people are crazy for money, filling their stomachs with the profits from babies!! But I think parents are also crazy, you know, supply is only meeting the demand.


I grew up well without ever studying like that.

kscc**** :

I like early childhood education, but teaching a foreign language to children who don’t even understand words yet? What do they know at that age?


How about not using private education at all? If it is too expensive then you can’t buy it. Taru, a Finnish woman who showed up on one Korean television program, said that Finns trust public education, so there is no private education in Finland at all. Korean should put in the effort to train good teachers and make a solid system of public education. I wish it would lead people away from private education..


There was one time my home-schooling teacher visited my home to promote a home-school textbook. She then tried to test my child’s ability to think. After a few minutes talking with my child, she forced me to buy books costing ₩1.2 million worth (USD $1080) because my child lagged behind children in the region.. Hahaha. My baby, it’s fine if you lag behind the others, just please grow up healthy and polite.

mom and infant


Parents who think their children are so great, that is all bullshit.. hey come on.. Just raise them like normal people. Those who are not supposed to be great will never become great.. Please. Silly parents..


Korean mother’s method of education: pointing out a janitor and saying “If you don’t study, then you will become a person like him”. On the other hand, the Vietnamese method: pointing out a janitor and saying “Thanks to him, we can sleep well at night.”
Korean mother’s method of education: looking at children running around the cafeteria and saying “Who are you, don’t meddle in my precious child’s business.” Compared to the Japanese method, “Hey kid, don’t cause inconvenience to others.”
Korean mother’s method of education: They don’t have an interest in what their children do, just in how to squeeze as many activities as possible into their child’s schedule. Then there is the Jewish mother’s method: They want to know what their children are doing and learning.


Pathetic.. but it can’t be fixed. This is the damned reality of Korea.


they’re all crazy.. a vicious cycle..


There is no need to teach children like that. They will grow up without any character and go on to beat up people, even their parents. .


It used to be that the only way to get people to sit up and pay attention was for someone to commit suicide, now killing yourself doesn’t even bring any notice in our country.


Before teaching them English, please teach them manners.


That’s why children have trouble with their personality. Education for the sake of showing off or being better and faster than your peers is a bad example of love for children. I could accept the idea of early education but I don’t think parents should delegate all educational authority to a hagwon. At least, at home, they should teach their children etiquette lessons. When I was young, after I got home from school, I was busy hiding the fact that I was punished by my teacher that day. When my parents eventually found out, I was scolded all over again, they said “It was all your fault. Why did you have to behave so badly that your teacher hurt his hand hitting you? How much did you do wrong?” Anyway, parents’ ways of loving their children these days is not good, at this rate it is inevitable for them to grow up impolite. For god’s sake(에휴), I miss the past.


I have two sons, one six-year-old and one three-year-old. As far as private education, regardless of someone’s good intentions, it is easy to be carried away by the atmosphere around us, I know that’s the way it is for me. Of course, there are educational gaps among different regions, but I think Seoul is the best. As our generation is different, I tried to understand it, but it’s hard. I think many parents have only one or two children so that they can easily devote their attention to them and make a tremendous investment in their education. I don’t know how to decide a child’s future so that they will always be bright and happy. Children these days have such a tough life. They spend time studying at school from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.. However, I suggest that parents’ perception of education should change. In our world of smart technology, English, Math, Science, Korean, and other subjects can help children develop, but these subjects should not become their whole life. I want to see their innocent smile, bright eyes, and eager faces.

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  • wafflestomp

    This is my last visit to Koreabang for a while, these sound ads need to go. Piss off already!

    • Jaz

      just download an adblock! i never get these ads ur talking about

      • wafflestomp

        I don’t mind websites getting SOME ad income, but fuck you Koreabang.

        • You’re doing the equivalent of banging your head against the wall and complaining that your head hurts.

        • Even I use adblock to block our adverts!

        • death_by_ivory

          So on what are the admins and the contributors going to live on?Love?

  • namepen

    Get rid of public schools, that is the real waste.

    They take up precious hours which force kids to study later on in the day at hagwons. Plus in Korea everything is about the test, say what you like about hagwons, but at least they focus on getting the result and the qualification.

    Also if only the ones that couldn’t pay went to PS then that would at least go someway to reducing the huge class sizes.

    • maja

      Don’t worry, you can find a job in China…

      • namepen

        Though I am not an English teacher anymore, I did have the privilege to work in both a PS and Hagwon. Through those experiences I saw the gulf in ability, at least in English education.

        You are right though, opportunities in China and around the world are still numerous. To be born an English speaker is to win the first great lottery of life.

        • maja

          I studied Chinese in an hagwon, a korean owned Mandarin school for foreign students studying in China. Some of the teachers were experienced and dedicated, but I’m very disillusioned about the study-for-exams method, at least to learn a radically different language.

    • star

      I think differently. Get rid of private schools, that’s the real waste and start making public schools better places to study. Of course it’s not something that will ever happen. But this is coming from a person who went to school in a country where private schools don’t exist.

      • namepen

        I suppose a moderate tax increase could be used to boost investment and might in the long run save parents from paying those huge hagwon fees.

        Though, as you say, it is not likely.

      • ehmjaybean

        The economy would collapse. It’s hard enough to find a job now but if all of those who were involved on the private education system suddenly had to find a new all at the same time, it would be impossible. Not only would teachers be without jobs, but other business invested in private schools would be forced to lay employees off as well; publishers, furniture sales and manufacturing, (every school has desks,) and the real estate market would be flooded with empty spaces, driving down prices, (maybe the only good aspect in expensive neighborhoods.)

        Eliminating the private school system is not feasible.

  • J

    My wife is Korean and I am English.

    We don’t have children yet, but we are lucky that we won’t have to face the majority of the hagwon system (English).

    I would prefer to home school my kids. I don’t even know if that is legal in Korea?

  • Whirly Pop

    Whatever suits your boots. If the child wants it, let him be. If the child doesn’t, let him be also. Guide him well and support his endeavors.

    • UserID01

      And exactly what manner of persuasion do you expect an infant to express to his/her parents when it comes to private schooling? They don’t even have teeth and parents are falling into the competitive school trap for them.

  • UserID01

    Infants can’t even hold their own damned heads up. These parents who want to get their INFANTS into competitive schools are some new kind of special retarded to think to put their INFANT into a competitive school. They’re raising machines, devoid of necessary parental affection and bonding that’s desperately needed during their earliest months of life.

    • iGleaux

      I laughed so hard at your first sentence but yes this whole thing is sad.

  • commander

    I have an policy idea of ending all educational policy controversies one and for all. The very policy is for the government to take the responsibility for education for all students. To be specific, under the policy, the government would provide all education for preschoolers, secondary schoolers, college students for free and with high quality, thus obviating the need for costly private education.

    The government-sponsed elite education that is tailored for talents wiuld pacify the opposition from the rich bent on getting their children to receive top notch education for admission to presitious universities, and alleviate the fear from the poor whose children is denied access to good education because of low-quality education and financial straits in sending them to attend private education academies.

    The new policy would also enable equal opportunity society. The level playibg field means that all peope should be given equitable chances allowing them to realize their potential fully regardless of wealth, race, and sex. But today’s Korean society makes upward mobility hard mainly because children from the poor homes are forced to receive no good education, with their potentials withering away without adequate guidance.

    The envisioned policy would offer equal opportuinites by providing improved public education to all students, in which case all pupils are assessed by tests of their abilities excluding non educational factors.

    No parents would express anxiety over their children’s future as the fate of children is determined by their pure academic efforts and fair assessment under sufficient educational support that enables the full realization of any students if they have willingness and make efforts to unleash their dormant abilities.

    This eudcation nationalization policy would predictably elicit immense objectiin from market advocates in that such a move would require massive state budget and it is hard for public educatuon quality to be elevated high enough to substitute all private education.

    But many northern European countries such as Switzerland, and Sweden alredy have that type of educational policy in place, and proved that equal opportunties in education is the starting point to redress deteriorating wealth imbalance between haves and haves not–an approach that will also help reduce crimes that are motivated by the loss of hope to live in a society that prevent upward mobility by one’s own efforts.

  • A Gawd Dang Mongolian

    I can understand trying to teach english at an early age. When younger, infants and toddlers pick upon a language faster than when they are older.

    And I can understand the parents wanting the best for their kids, but this? This is ridiculous. Just teach the kid yourself. Parents should teach the kids at such an early age these sorts of things, and at a slow pace to let it set in, not hammer in everything like they have college exams when they turn 10…which they don’t…

    • Mihel

      The way I see it, teaching kids yourself would not get the results those parents are aiming for. The things they are aiming for, I assume, are ego-boosting and prestige-whoring, not better instruction for their kids.
      If you teach the kid yourself, you can’t brag about it with friends and co-workers, bragging-about-it is one of the things included in the cost of a private school.

      • That creates some really mental kids. Competition, competition, that is all they care about. Fucking prestige whoring is overwhelming. One of my cousins went to an ivy league and decided to have her wedding event at the mentioned club. Meaningless social jerking for that constant feed back for attention and validation that has no contribution to the dedication of one’s love for another in the case of marriage. Fucking twat.

    • Ravin’ Shikshin

      It’s not that simple. First off, how many Korean parents themselves actually speak proper English? How are they expected to teach their children if they themselves can’t speak the language decently?

      Many of these Koreans are definitely going for bragging rights when they send their kids to those language schools. Try looking for a job as an English teacher in S.Korea if you’re Asian/non-white even though you’re born in an English speaking country and a native English speaker.

      There’s an overwhelming racial preference for caucasian ESL teachers. Somehow non-whites means wrong English accent to the S.Koreans. A white face = an innate ability to speak perfectly accented English and to teach their kids properly. It’s all about getting the right accent. Anything not resembling the standard north American accent is no go because it’s ‘not proper English’. ESL academies will bypass a non-white with a doctorate in English Language Teaching but hire a white with a Bachelor in a non-related discipline. Even if that non-white doctorate holder gets the job, he/she will likely be paid less than a less qualified white ESL teacher.

  • terriblemovie

    Can’t wait until Korean educators target the fetus market. Maybe they’ll develop education for sperm and eggs by the time I have kids.

    • commander

      Already done. prenatal education is already given for many pregnant women, while education for sperms and eggsare replaced by cautious spousal finding like marriage not for lomve but for materialisitc conditions and academic credentials.

  • dk2020

    Well at least teachers get paid better for education in Korea than the US ..

    • Mihel

      Seeing that twenty or so nations in the list pay their teachers better than US, being better than US is not a particular accomplishment here.

  • commander

    South Korea, already notorious among OCED members for its longest working time for workers, is also infamous for the highest dissatisfaction with studying students feel though Seoul is high on the ranking list of OECD-administered academic performance tests.

    To put these two facts together,South Koreans study in a fierce competitiom and work for the longesr hours after graduation from schools, resulting in lowest satisfaction with the quality of life.

    On top of it, parents here have hardly prepared for post retirement life as they spend most of their savings for children education in the hope of their chidren will not lag behind.

    RESULT: The Highest Suicide Rate among OCED members.

    • seungri_92

      A very good point on parents throwing their own retirement out the window. Living in Seoul today, I see this as a crisis in the making (retirement). The one saving grace is the very affordable health insurance but I’ve also been told that while the health insurance is great, it’s not sustainable and marking massive losses every year.

      This model that SK is currently operating on isn’t the most ideal but given their lack of natural resources it definitely understandable. I don’t think it’s fair to compare SK to countries like Norway, Australia, or Canada which have massive amounts of natural resources compared to the population and can therefore provide really great societal benefits.

      • commander

        It sounds right. But many experts here say there is a ticking time bomb in SK as many households are heavily indebted for buying purchases on credit, national pension and healthcare funds are projeced to, as you say, dry up over the world’s lowest fertility rate amid worsening disparities of wealth. Of course don’t forget a stream of nuclear and missile threat from North Korea led by a chubby 30 year old lad.

        Furthermore, political haggling for political power strugle find faults darken the prospect of this complex set of problems being addressed soon. The Park administration plans to put more taxes on the middle class to give welfare benefits to them while keeping disregarding the public calls for the intelligence agency’s overhaul given organized meddling in the 2012 presidential election.

        I am not questioning her presidential legitimacy, but the spy agency’s intervention in the poll should not go unpunished. If it goes unchecked, another interference attempt could rock the nation’s democratic foundations.

        Anyway, in consideration of these circumstances, it is completely right for you to say that the nation is in crisis.

        It is quite understandablr for many South Koreans to ponder immigration to other developed countries like ones you mentioned.

  • EastAsianNationalist

    Don’t laugh. This may be prestige-whoring, which Koreans seem to love even more than other Asians. But this is the kind of mentality that pushes the general populace upwards, forever striving and worshipping the richest, the best looking, the most high class, even if most will never attain that status.

    • Mihel

      No, the kind of mentality that pushes upwards the general population is the one that propels it to spend time, effort and money on useful things.
      This is a waste of money for the parents and a waste of time for the infants.

      In six or so years, how much of a difference will it make if a kid learned how to say apple banana blueberry in english when he was two years old, compared to a kid who learned the same things when he was five?

      I bet those parents will be really disappointed when their three years old child will make a fuss because he wants to go play instead of learning past tense of some verb.

  • My god the pronunciation of fruit in that iPad app made my skin crawl.

  • death_by_ivory

    Maybe if in the USA we would respect education half as much as in other countries,not only 26% of third graders in NY would pass the state exam in English.
    And dont give me the crap that those exams are useless.Maybe they are but we are talking about English,as the language they speak (mainly).

  • Louis Haag

    In France public education has better reputation than private. Top schools are paying their students instead of charging them crazy tuition fees like in the US or Korea.

  • dk2020

    In Japanese schools, the students don’t get ANY exams until they reach grade four (the age of 10).

    Why? Because the goal for the first 3 years of schools is NOT to judge the child’s knowledge or learning, but to establish good manners and to develop their character.

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