Why so many taekwondo academies?

From pickup and drop-off and supervised homework to practicing the Hula-Hoop for gym classes, taekwondo academies are playing a growing role in South Korea.

In addition to martial arts lessons, the centers – a sure-fire find near virtually every elementary school in South Korea – provide much-needed help to couples on two paychecks struggling to balance work and child rearing.

Five-year-old Kwon Ye-rin’s post-kindergarten routine relies on a taekwondo academy, though she only joins classes there two days a week. Every day, she is picked up from kindergarten by a taekwondo instructor, along with many other children, and taken to a nearby building in a yellow van where the taekwondo hall and other private educational institutions are located, or hagwon.

During the three days that Kwon is not taking taekwondo lessons, the instructor sends her to piano and ballet lessons in the same building and then picks her up for another yellow bus ride to her home.

Kwon’s mother, Kim Jae-young, pays an additional monthly fee to the taekwondo academy for the additional service.

“Taekwondo hagwon is almost a must have for working mothers like me as they provide a shuttle service. Otherwise, parents have to face the very stressful task of setting children’s schedules, ”said the mother, who resides in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province.

The academy that Kwon attends is far from unique.

Taekwondo academies usually offer the ‘full service’ option, picking up kids from kindergarten or school and dropping them home after class. Some even offer weekend excursions or birthday party services for an additional fee.

Such an expanded role is part of their survival strategy.

Taekwondo, an age-old Korean martial art characterized by punching and kicking techniques using bare feet and hands, has long been practiced by young students, mostly schoolchildren.

But private academies teaching sports have taken their toll due to declining numbers of primary school students as the country continues to have the lowest birth rate in the world.

With universities here producing more than 2,000 taekwondo instructors a year, competition has intensified between academies to attract more students, widening their student base to kindergarten children.

Last year, there were 10,298 private taekwondo academies across the country, according to data compiled by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Kim Byung-ho, who has run a taekwondo school for 17 years, said growing demand from parents for an institution that can fill the childcare void has affected the way he and other instructors manage their institutions.

As more kindergarten students enroll in his academy, he has become more attentive to issues such as child transportation safety and environmental hormones.

“Parents wanted places and people to take care of their children,” he said. “And they seem to have found hagwon taekwondo as an alternative.”

By Park Han-na ([email protected])

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