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S. Korea to expand in-person classes and care programs at schools

Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae (center) speaks during a press briefing Thursday. (Yonhap)
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae (center) speaks during a press briefing Thursday. (Yonhap)
South Korea will expand the proportion of in-person classes and improve the quality of online learning and child care programs so that the new academic year can proceed without delays, the Ministry of Education announced Thursday.

The Education Ministry said the country’s new school year will kick off as scheduled in March and provide more than 190 class days for elementary, middle and high school students and over 180 days for those in kindergarten.

The move will also allow Korea to carry out this year’s state-run college entrance exam on schedule in the third week of November.

“Unlike March last year, all schools across the country are now capable of running online classes, so we can start the new academic year in March as planned,” Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said in a press briefing Thursday.

“As for the Suneung, we will utilize the experience in running last year’s Suneung to run this year’s exam without delays on the Thursday of the third week of November, which would be Nov. 18.”

Municipal and regional educational offices will be given the authority to adjust their academic calendars depending on their COVID-19 situations while strictly abiding by infection control rules to secure the required number of school days, the ministry said.

Kindergartners and first and second graders will be allowed to attend classes in person under social distancing rules up to Level 2, while those attending special schools or small schools can attend classes even if Level 2.5 rules are in place.

High school seniors will be categorically provided with in-person classes under most virus situations.

The government will invest 190 billion won ($170.6 million), Yoo said, to dispatch 50,000 workers to ensure that virus rules are strictly followed in classrooms and that fewer students are placed in each class.

The workers will also be responsible for managing school cafeterias, which will be supported in staying open for students even if classes are held online.

Each school will be provided with eight face masks per student and at least three bottles of hand sanitizer per classroom, she added.

And as a means to improve the quality of online learning, the Education Ministry said it will set up wireless internet in 252,000 classrooms while providing rental and maintenance services for smart devices.

The ministry emphasized that the government has revised its operational guidelines and improved its online learning management system. The newer system allows for an improved interactive learning environment and easier management of student attendance and classroom resources, it added.

Interactive learning has proved critical in raising the level of satisfaction with online classes for students, parents and faculty members alike, the ministry said.

“Unfortunately, it is believed that both in-person learning and online learning should be incorporated for this year as well,” said Choi Gyo-jin, head of the National Council of Governors of Education.

“Municipalities and provinces will autonomously prepare for the new school year and ensure safety and care for all students.”

To further improve the system in case of any problems found during the new school year, the ministry added that it will provide additional classes for teachers and will open 18 more future learning centers. The ministry is canceling 30 out of 36 planned projects on schools to focus on the initiative.

In addressing the achievement gap among students and the need for more child care, the ministry said it will have educational offices run their own mentoring and additional learning activities while also providing more exercise classes and counseling programs.

The ministry is also looking to open around 3,200 after-school care programs across the country within this year.

By Ko Jun-tae (