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The Peninsula

Local Governments Tackle Bigger Policy Issues

Published October 8, 2021
Author: Korea View

What Happened

  • A report from February 2021 identified differences in people’s ability to access private education as a key reason behind differing levels of academic achievement.
  • This achievement gap appears to have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic due to remote learning.
  • On August 27, the Mayor of Seoul began offering private online education to students to reduce disparities in academic achievement between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Implications: Local governments are increasingly taking on challenges that the national government is struggling to address. In response to the widening gap in educational achievement between students of different socio-economic backgrounds, the Seoul Metropolitan Government put forward its solution of employing private educational services to assist students who do not traditionally have access to tutors. This is not an approach that would have been politically viable for the central government given its long history of pushing back against private tutoring. However, critics point out that Seoul’s policy proposal may not be sufficient to reverse the growing gap – especially since free lectures from public broadcasters do not seem to be affecting this trend. Moreover, the municipal government’s purview is too limited to tackle the underlying issues that affect gaps in academic achievements such as inequality and the urban-rural divide.

Context: The pandemic has encouraged local governments to expand their policy toolkit and address local challenges more autonomously. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, the Gyeonggi provincial government began distributing regular sums of money to all its residents in an effort to stimulate the economy. Similarly, the Office of Education for the North Gyeongsang Province introduced a policy of providing regular payments to all local students. While their long-term effectiveness will still need to be studied, these measures represent a major shift from an earlier period when the central government took a leading role in setting policies in sensitive areas like welfare and education.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Janet Hong and Yubin Huh. Picture from the  flickr account of Republic of Korea

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