More than half of elementary schools in South Korea operated after-school English classes for first and second graders last year, following the government's partial deregulation at the beginning of the year, the Ministry of Education said Tuesday.
The ministry said 3,409, or 55.3 percent, of the 6,167 elementary schools nationwide offered after-school English classes for their first and second graders in 2019.
The ratio was far higher in Seoul, at 80.6 percent, with 485 of 602 schools in the capital operating such classes.
The national ratio is expected to rise further this year, as a recent poll of elementary schools by the ministry found that 4,499 schools, or 73 percent, have plans to offer after-school English classes for their youngest students.
In South Korea, English in the formal curriculum begins in third grade.
Under the Special Act on the Promotion of Public Education Normalization and Regulation on Pre-curriculum Education, after-school English lessons for first and second graders, defined as pre-curriculum education, was banned in March 2018.
In the face of protests from parents who feared a spike in private education expenses for early English learning, however, the ministry agreed early last year to permit after-school English classes for first and second graders as an exception to the special act.
When both parents work full time outside the home, the after-school English class also assumes the role of child care, educational industry officials say.
"After-school English education is cheaper than private English education and fulfills the child care function. In this sense, such classes will continue to spread. But there should be some regulation to ensure that excessive pre-curriculum education will not occur during after-school classes," an industry official said.