The tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry is raising questions about school trips. Parents are reportedly bombarding schools with phone calls to urge them to cancel their planned field trips.
Their reaction is understandable, as on board the ill-fated ship were 325 students from Danwon High School in Ansan who were on their way to Jejudo Island for a study trip. When the ferry capsized, only a small number of students were rescued.
It is not just parents who are scared. Teachers and students are feeling uneasy about school excursions as well.
So the Ministry of Education has instructed the educational offices of metropolitan cities and provinces to delay field trips if they have even the slightest concerns about safety. The Educational Office of Gyeonggi Province has told schools to cancel excursions by boat. Following the instructions, many schools have delayed their study tours slated for April and May.
Their response is appropriate. But simply delaying planned trips is no way to address the safety risks involved in school trips as they are currently conducted. The ferry disaster is forcing schools to look for safer alternatives.
Currently, schools arrange study tours that involve hundreds of students. Elementary schools normally organize three-day trips for the entire sixth-grade class, while middle and high schools arrange four-day trips for all second-year students. Each grade usually has more than 300 students.
In most cases, this large group of students travels together and visits the same places in order to reduce costs. This practice also makes it easier for teachers to organize trips.
But large-scale tours heighten the chances of large-scale disasters. Should accidents occur, such as the ferry disaster, the scale of the potential tragedy is even greater.
Following the Sewol tragedy, some parents argue that school excursions can be abolished altogether as most families have become rich enough to visit places of interest on their own.
But school trips are necessary as they offer students firsthand experiences that classroom lessons cannot. They also give students memorable times with their classmates.
But it would be unwise for schools to continue to organize the current type of school excursions, ignoring the safety risks involved.
In fact, last year the Education Ministry advised schools to arrange smaller-scale field trips involving fewer than 100 students. This idea deserves consideration, although it would increase costs.
Safety should come before costs. If trips are organized on a smaller scale, it would be easier for students to choose the themes and itineraries on their own, which would make the trips more fun and educational.