SEOUL--South Korea’s education ministry has shelved plans to stop providing extracurricular English classes at public kindergartens following a furious backlash from parents.

The ministry announced its plan to review the provision of the classes at a news conference in December, and in January, its intention to scrap the classes emerged via news reports.

Sources said the ministry intended to pull the plug on publicly funded classes as one way of dampening what officials felt was an overheated interest in having young children learn English but parents’ vigorous opposition to the plan led to the ministry’s U-turn.

A common complaint was that the ministry's move would only benefit the affluent who can afford a private English education.

Mothers and fathers lambasted the ministry in a series of posts to a “citizens’ petition corner” on the presidential office website.

“A communist nation without freedom of education,” read one, and “Restricting only public education doesn’t make sense,” said another.

The ministry responded on Jan. 16, saying that the lessons will continue while it seeks an alternative solution to the issue by the beginning of next year after consulting with the public English classes for pre-school children have become more common in South Korea in recent years as parents seek ever-higher education standards for their children growing up into an increasingly fraught job market. Some families start teaching their children English from the age of 2.

In 2017, there were 453 private "English kindergartens" where pre-school children routinely speak English in South Korea, according to the ministry.

Demand for such facilities has seen English kindergartens grow into a 270 billion won industry (about 27 billion yen, or $244 million).

Public kindergartens have also been offering English classes for one to two hours daily, taught by teachers brought in from outside, in addition to their standard classes.