Schools in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province will resume in-person classes next week as South Korea has eased its social distancing measures in parts of the country, the Education Ministry announced Tuesday.
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said in a press briefing that kindergartens and elementary, middle and high schools there will allow students to return to classrooms from Sept. 21. The decision was made after Korea lowered the social distancing restrictions in the capital region from the de facto “Level 2.5” to Level 2, bringing it into line with the rest of the country, Sunday.
“I sincerely thank school employees, students and their parents for actively following the intensified social distancing scheme in this difficult time, but now is not the time to rest assured,” Yoo said.
To minimize the risk of infection, kindergartens and schools will keep the attendance level in each class to one-third, she said. High schools will keep the rate at two-thirds until Oct. 11, except for seniors.
Even during school closure, senior students have been going to physical classes with no attendance cap in consideration of the college admission process, in particular the national college entrance exam in early December.
Unlike those in the capital region, schools elsewhere have stayed open over the past weeks and they can now set their own physical attendance levels as needed, depending on the virus situation in their respective regions.
Mindful of worries that distance learning is widening the achievement gap among students, the minister vowed to improve the quality of online classes.
Online classes will now come with live chat options so that students can share their feedback with teachers in real time, and teachers must strictly observe the time requirements of 40 minutes for each elementary school class, 45 minutes for middle school and 50 minutes for high school.
All teachers are now required to run live online sessions with students before and after each class day. The meetings will serve as an opportunity for teachers to check in with their students and discuss class materials as needed.
Teachers will also be required to directly communicate with missing students and engage in further conversations.
If a student misses in-person classes for a whole week, the teacher is required to hold a counseling session with that student or a parent.
As for infrastructural support, the ministry will provide wireless internet access for all classrooms and replace around 20,000 outdated digital devices by November.
It is also working to upgrade the current online learning management system by next February, equipping it with community functions and a live online lecture function.
The current version allows teachers to check attendance, share announcements and conduct basic student body management. The ministry plans to launch a midlevel version by November and work toward a final version after finding cooperation partners.
The government is also planning to conduct surveys of teachers, parents and students to determine how the system can improve.
By Ko Jun-tae (firstname.lastname@example.org