South Korea to introduce state exams for daycare workers following child abuse scandals

Children attend class at a 'Seodang', or traditional Korean school, in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan 13 2015. The government vowed on Tuesday to introduce a national qualification examination for workers at daycare centres for children amid rising
Children attend class at a 'Seodang', or traditional Korean school, in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan 13 2015. The government vowed on Tuesday to introduce a national qualification examination for workers at daycare centres for children amid rising concerns over the state's lax monitoring on the child care system. -- PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL (Korea Herald/Asia News Network) - The government vowed on Tuesday to introduce a national qualification examination for workers at daycare centres for children amid rising concerns over the state's lax monitoring on the child care system.

All child care facilities will also be required to install surveillance cameras, officials said. Those without cameras will be barred from operations.

The new measures were released amid rising public outrage over several recent child abuse cases at preschool facilities. Three female workers were arrested earlier this month for allegedly having hit children under five for not finishing meals or following the class. One of them had even put wet tissues in the mouth of a 22-month toddler to stop his cries, police said.

The qualification process for day care workers has been branded too easy by its critics. Currently, anyone who completes over 65 credits worth of courses at a college-affiliated academy can work as a third-grade day care teacher. A first-grade certificate only requires completion of a few additional courses and three years of experience.

As of this month, more than 86,000 people have been certified, with some 22,000 currently working in day care.

In order to toughen the qualifications, the education ministry will require a set curriculum and a personality test for those who seek to take the national day care exam, the government said.

In the long term, the ministry will push to restrict the exam applications to those who major in child-related studies, officials said.

The surveillance camera requirement had been pushed at the National Assembly in 2010 but failed to be passed by the welfare committee after some lawmakers expressed concerns over privacy of day care employees.

The government will also double the reward for child abuse whistle-blowers to 20 million won (S$24,850), officials said.

The ministry will also raise the number of assistant teachers at facilities to reduce the workload of day care workers while improving care quality.

"About 6,500 assistants will be provided nationwide and all costs will be provided by the state. While it is under discussion, around 200 billion won to 300 billion won is expected to be earmarked for the move," a ministry official told media.

Meanwhile, the police authorities vowed to strengthen penalties against those who interfered in investigations into alleged abuse.

Those found guilty of obstructing a police probe can be jailed for a year fined up to 5 million won, the authorities said.