Public, Private, or Somewhere in Between

March 2017. My daughter just started elementary school. The school is a five-minute walk from our home. This is her first public school, which means she’s now assimilated into the Korean public education system. Not that she never attended school before age six. She received four years of early childhood education, starting from when she was two. She went to a private nursery for two years, then a private kindergarten for another two. Of course, I had to pay a considerable amount every month. Did I choose a private school because I didn’t trust the Korean public education system? No, that wasn’t it.


I applied to a public nursery when my daughter turned one. People asked me why I was so late. All the reputable places had a backlog of applications. I waited for them to contact me until she turned two, but the call never came. In the meantime, I had to work on my writing.


While I worked, I entrusted my daughter to a babysitter. The situation worsened after my second child was born. Left with no choice, I enrolled my daughter in a private nursery. The curriculum included daily Korean and counting classes, and twice-a-week English lessons. She learned Korean and picked up simple English words and greetings.


A more full-fledged curriculum awaited her at the private kindergarten where she enrolled at four. I visited the kindergarten one day when parents were invited to class and discovered the classroom walls were plastered with l...

Jeong Yi Hyun has published five novels, three short story collections, and two essay c0ollections. Her first novel, Sweet City of Mine, was adapted into the TV series My Sweet Seoul. She and Alain de Botton wrote the two-volume Foundation of Love that deals with issues of love, marriage, and family. She has received the Lee Hyo-seok Literary Award and Hyundae Literary Award. Her books have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, and Thai.