Senior students study for the upcoming Suneung at Happo High School in South Gyeongsang Province on Nov. 4. (Yonhap)
High schools across South Korea are turning to remote classes from Thursday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among teenagers ahead of the country’s once-a-year college aptitude exam a week later.
In the Greater Seoul area, where majority of COVID-19 infections have been reported since the beginning of the fourth virus wave in July, high school seniors switched to remote classes last Thursday.
The Ministry of Education has made it clear that this year’s Suneung will take place on Nov. 18 as scheduled, unlike last year when the exam was postponed for three weeks because the number of confirmed cases spiked around the test date.
“We must succeed in this difficult task of protecting the safety of students while balancing education and quarantine,” Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said Wednesday in a meeting with local education chiefs and health authorities.
“The stronger quarantine measures for Suneung and fully resuming in-person classes will not be separated, but go on together. We expect it to continue until the end of the second semester this year.”
Last month, the Education Ministry announced its plan to bring all students back to classrooms from November 22 after Suneung in accordance with the government’s push to restore normalcy.
The ministry said that even if the government finds itself in a situation where it has to put a temporary pause on the plan of “living with COVID-19” and impose strict social distancing measures again due to an uncontrollable surge in the virus caseload, the plan to hold Suneung next Thursday will stand as it is.
For students infected with the virus or those who have been instructed to self-isolate as they came in close contact with confirmed patients, the exam will take place in designated test centers, hospitals and temporary care facilities across the country, according to the Education Ministry.
In case if anyone shows or develops symptoms of COVID-19 on the day of the exam, the ministry has cooperated with regional education offices to set up a total of 2,895 separate rooms at 1,255 designated exam centers.
Public health clinics nationwide will extend the closing time of their virus testing operations to 10 p.m. on Wednesday, the night before Suneung, to monitor any last minute infections among test takers, the Education Ministry said.
The ministry previously designated the two-week period from Nov. 4 before the nationwide college entrance test as the Suneung special quarantine period.
“A total of about 155,000 facilities used by many people are undergoing the Suneung special quarantine checkups in Seoul, Gyeonggi and Incheon,” Yoo said.
“The education offices in the Greater Seoul area will have an additional support of 2,350 daily quarantine guidance personnel to strengthen inspections of the facilities near schools.”
Health and education authorities have carried out onsite checkups at 320 private academies which are mostly attended by students to prepare for Suneung. Local governments have also conducted inspections of the facilities used by students such as libraries, study cafes, singing rooms and computer rooms.
According to the Ministry of Education, a total of 509,821 people signed up to take the college entrance exam this year. Test takers must wear a mask at all time and no electronic devices are allowed throughout the all-day exam period including in-between breaks and lunchtime.
By Kan Hyeong-woo (email@example.com