Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The government has a plan to prevent child abuse. Be afraid.

In case there are those of you who have not been paying attention to Korean news, people have been sent into fits of outrage over a spate of child abuse that has been reported around many of the country's daycare centers and nurseries.

In order to appear as though the government were doing something constructive (something that never ceases to instill fear in me), as it was reported in the Korea Herald, the Korean government plans to introduce a state-run qualification examination for daycare workers. Like as though Korea didn't have an excessive number of standardized exams already, the same article reported that the Korean government plans to require a set curriculum and a personality test for those who seek to take the national daycare exam.

And in the long term, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which is overseeing this whole mess, plans to restrict the exam applications to those who major in child-related studies.

But will this help to end the spate of child abuse in the country's daycare centers? I remain unconvinced. Also, there are many other problems that the government's proposals can lead to.

1) Standardized Exams for Daycare Workers → One-Size-Fits-All Education

A standardized exam that will limit who can and who cannot work at a daycare center will also likely standardize daycare service itself. That is because those who are allowed to work in the daycare industry will eventually all have the same educational background and views. When a one-size-fits-all education model is then imposed on Korean students from the moment they learn to walk and talk, this could potentially further stunt Korean students' critical thinking abilities.

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2) Growing Role of Bureaucrats and Politicians

As the role of the government increases in how daycare centers operate, it will enlarge the role of bureaucrats and politicians. And any time the government gets involved in anything, there is almost always a glut of taxpayers' money. When there is that much “free money” available, it will further cement the destructive symbiotic relationship that already exists between bureaucrats and those people who run daycare centers. Skip to Number 8 on this list for more about this.

3) Standardized Personality Tests are likely to be ineffective

Setting up yet another standardized personality test, which this national day care exam will require, will not be helpful in any way. Does anyone think that this is somehow a novel idea? The Ministry of Defense has required Korean soldiers to take such tests for decades. In fact, while I served in the ROK Army, my battalion forced us to take these kinds of personality tests at least once every two months, which is standard practice throughout the ROK Armed Forces.

Yet those tests have done little to nothing to prevent suicides, desertion, murders, harassment, or hazing in the military. So why does anyone think that personality tests will somehow lead to a different result for the daycare industry?

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4) Surveillance cameras obviously haven't worked

The government also plans to force all child care facilities to install surveillance cameras, and threatened that those without cameras will be barred from operations in the future. However, I do not understand what this law will accomplish. After all, those people who have recently been arrested for abusing children were CAUGHT ON CAMERA!

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5) And who is going to pay for this?

The government plans to raise the number of assistant teachers at facilities to reduce the workload of daycare workers while improving the quality of daycare services. To be specific, the government plans to provide 6,500 assistant teachers nationwide and “all costs will be borne by the state.” Of course, when they say “the state,” what they really mean is “taxpayers.”

The government plans to earmark around 200 billion to 300 billion for the move. Of course, experience says that whenever governments say something will cost so much, it's a safe bet to assume that it will cost much more than that amount. Which is just perfect! Yet another reason for the government to whine about its tax deficit (here's an idea – how about just reducing spending?) and to impose yet more taxes on people! Like as though that hasn't been yet another mess!

6) Show me the data!

The government also plans to open an additional 450 public daycare centers nationwide by 2017. Aside from the need to impose further taxes on people and the other related problems that that could lead to, have people forgotten that Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in the world? Will opening so many daycare centers be profitable in the long run? Will the demand for daycare centers be consistent? If so, how long will it remain consistent? If it will remain profitable, how long will it be before the losses start? Will the losses be politically viable? Will it be economically sustainable?

Where is the cost-benefit analysis? All I see is a whole lot of nothing.

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7) Treating the Symptoms vs. Treating the Disease

This proposed law does not even seem to pretend to look to solve the cause of the problem. And what is the cause? The main cause for so many of the problems that exist within the daycare industry is that there isn't a single daycare center throughout Korea that is allowed to run as a for-profit business. In fact, every single daycare center, whether they are public daycare centers or privately-run daycare centers, is forced to operate as a non-profit because, as far as the Ministry of Health and Welfare is concerned, “the very idea of trying to make money while taking care of children is an anachronism in modern society.”

Yes, they actually said that. So if there is anyone who is reading this who happens to teach young children or happens to be a nanny, the Korean government's message to you seems to be to go screw yourselves. How dare you think that investing your time, energy, and soul into taking care of the children of others could mean that you deserve to make money, you greedy boor?

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In effect, the government has prohibited economic competition among the 45,000 or so daycare centers around the whole country. Some people might think that this is a good thing because parents are financially struggling and that, therefore, parents need all the help that they can get. However, what those people also seem to be forgetting is the maxim “you get what you pay for.”

As daycare centers are not allowed to run as for-profit institutions, they have no choice but to obey government diktats when it comes to pricing, services provided, etc. Therefore, as many of these daycare centers do not have the funds that they need to provide competitive services, many of them cannot afford to provide high quality amenities or teachers or service workers.

In an attempt to make everything equal, the government has made the entire industry, which happens to be the one of the industries that parents trust to take care of their young children, to become equally mediocre cesspools.

8) How to get Rich in the Daycare Industry

But does that mean that people who run daycare centers do not make money? Many do struggle to survive. However, there are those who do make money. Typically, I see nothing wrong with making money. However, in the case of some of these daycare centers, everyone ought to have a problem with the way they make money.

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As mentioned earlier, every single daycare center in Korea is forced to run as a non-profit. Therefore, they are one of the most regulated industries in the country. However, where there is regulation, there is always room for corruption.

Case in point, according to this article in the Sunday Newspaper, one of the easiest ways for a daycare center director to make a lot of money is by pilfering the children's lunch money. Firstly, as the government promised to provide “free” lunch meals to students, the government has to spend a total of ₩1,745 per child per meal per day.

The following are translations from that article about what some of the more unscrupulous daycare center directors do to make money:

  • Some daycare center directors make deals with the businesses that provide the meals that the children eat. To explain, the directors and the the food companies agree to create a separate bank account into which the government will allocate the promised lunch money. For example, if a daycare center has 100 students, the government will allocate ₩174,500 per day into that account. Assuming that the children attend the daycare center for twenty days out of a month, the government will allocate a total of ₩3,490,000 into the account.
The deal that the director and the food company will make is that the latter will provide only up to (for argument's sake) only 3,000,000 worth of food. The the two parties will split the remaining 490,000 among themselves.

  • Some daycare center directors also charge what they call “special expenses,” which are expenses that do not include English, art, or music lessons. These expenses can cost anywhere between 100,000 to 200,000 per child per month. It was reported that much of this money ends up becoming part of the directors' personal slush funds.

  • Some daycare centers also employ what are known as “ghost teachers.” After submitting fabricated documentation, instead of hiring actual teachers and daycare workers, some directors employ part-time workers. Some of them even employ their own family members. That is because the government provides subsidies for each teacher that a daycare center employs.

  • Some daycare centers also enroll what are known as “ghost children.” Currently, the government subsidizes daycare centers that have enrolled children. The government provides up to 394,000 per child who is less than a year old, 347,000 per child who is a year old, 286,000 per child who is two years old, and ₩220,000 per child who is between three to five years old.
Therefore, even though some daycare centers may be filled up and can no longer accept any more children, some daycare center directors still register even more children as having enrolled in their school. That way, the daycare center director will pocket that subsidy money, which he/she might split with the “ghost child's” parents.

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As I said earlier, where there is regulation, there is always room for corruption. Also, where there is regulation, there is always the possibility of mediocrity. In the case of the government's regulation of the country's daycare centers, there seems to be more than a lot of each to go around.

If the government truly wishes to improve the state of the country's daycare centers, the best thing that it can do is to lift all of its ridiculous regulations and allow them to compete like businesses ought to compete.

This state-run qualification examination for daycare workers will do nothing to solve the pre-existing problems of the industry, and will likely only make things even worse than they already are.

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