At a cabinet meeting for government policy review and coordination held at the Government Complex in Seoul and chaired by Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon on Thursday, an agenda of using vacant classrooms as afterschool daycare centers was deliberated and determined. “The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and Welfare have discussed and agreed on a principle to utilize school facilities,” said Prime Minister Lee. “We will finalize remaining issues and come up with a final plan that includes the daycare program.”
The plan seeks to utilize vacant classrooms for conducting school activities or as kindergartens and caters to local community demands for daycare. The Ministry of Education plans to introduce legislation on “The Act on School Facilities Utilization (tentative)” within the first half of the year to provide a legal basis enabling the establishment of daycare centers.
In December last year, The Dong-A Ilbo published a five-phase series titled “Daycare Centers in Schools- for Coexistence” to propose the idea of utilizing vacant public school classrooms as daycare service facilities. The series was published right after the revised Infant Care Act, which included a new article stating “the central and local governments may utilize idle classrooms at elementary schools by changing their use as public daycare centers,” remained pending in the Legislation and Judiciary Committee of the National Assembly.
Building daycare centers within public schools is one of solutions to expand public daycare centers. Back then, however, the act failed to pass due to the “lack of ministerial consultation.” The Ministry of Health and Welfare was eager to use idle classrooms, while the Ministry of Education was hesitant, citing the lack of classrooms in schools. Dong-A’s report series went viral, as many parents actively supported the idea of safer and more affordable public daycare centers in nearby local schools. Eventually, this prompted the government to promote ministerial discussion and take action.
The amended Infant Care Act, currently pending in the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, is also expected to pick up speed. Before the cabinet meeting, Education Minister Kim Sang-gon and Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo met for a separate meeting. Both agreed that the Infant Care Act had priority over the Act on School Facilities Utilization, which involves a comprehensive demand base covering afterschool care and daycare and thus requires a considerable period of time to pass legislative approval. “It is significant that the two ministries have torn down barriers and worked together to build a user-based policy,” said an official from the Prime Minister’s Office.
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