SEOUL, Oct. 28 (Yonhap) -- The rate of South Korean children using state-run kindergartens and other preschool institutions is among the lowest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an opposition party said Sunday.

Based on its analysis of an OECD report, titled "Education at a Glance 2018," the Justice Party's policy panel said that South Korea's figure for children between the ages of 3 and 5 stood at 21.1 percent in 2016, compared with the OECD average of 66.9 percent.

With the figure, South Korea ranked 32nd among the 35 member states. The countries behind it were Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, which are thought to have many other regional and religious child care facilities.

The analysis came amid growing public uproar sparked by a lawmaker's revelation of widespread corruption among preschool owners, including accounting fraud, budget misappropriation and other irregularities.

The government and the ruling Democratic Party are pushing for a set of measures, such as boosting the percentage of children using state-run kindergartens to 40 at an early date. The government originally wanted to achieve the goal by 2022.

The party's analysis showed that the rate for the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia are 96.5 percent, 96 percent and 95.5 percent, respectively. The figures for Mexico, Israel and the United States are 85.7 percent, 63 percent and 59.2 percent.

Meanwhile, the Seoul Metropolitan Government said that it plans to start running a free child care program for all preschoolers next year as part of efforts to expand what it calls "universal" education welfare.

"There are parents who have to inevitably send their children to private institutions," Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said. "Starting next year, we will practically provide the additional money that they have to pay to use the private facilities."

Currently, parents who send their children to private preschools spend up to 83,000 won (US$72.65) more than those using state-run institutions.

Source: Yonhap News Agency