The government will recommend that all primary and secondary schools adopt the five-day school week starting next year.
Currently, local schools rest every second and fourth Saturday in a month.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said Tuesday that a pilot program will start at some schools in the second half this year as the new measure is likely to affect the pattern of family life greatly.
“The 40-hour working week is slated to start from July at all workplaces with more than five employees. There has been a growing demand for the five-day work week in a bid to foster a healthy leisure culture in which parents and children enjoy (time) together,” said Education Minister Lee Joo-ho in a news briefing on Tuesday.
“The Education Ministry along with other related government agencies have agreed to adopt the five-day school week and to join forces to soft-land the work week in Korea,” he said.
With the adoption of the five-day school week, the number of school days will decrease from the current 205 to 190, the OECD average.
A teacher and students conduct a science experiment at a Seoul elementary school. (Yonhap News)
Existing Saturday classes ― most of them focused on arts and sports activities ― will be conducted during weekdays, while the vacation days would decrease by up to four days.
The ministry expected that there will be no confusion in school curriculum as it had already revised education programs in 2009 based on the five-day school week.
The ministry also decided to strengthen follow-up measures for the possible academic loss in case of children from low-income households or with double-income parents.
Adding to the current similar programs conducted by related government offices, the government will support schools in preparing for extra activity programs on Saturdays.
Even though whether to implement the five-day week at individual schools is still to be decided by local governments and educational offices, social consensus on the five-day school week has been formed through years of discussions.
In an April survey by the Korean Federation of Teacher’s Association, 77.8 percent of the 2,323 parents and 87.9 percent of 2,442 students nationwide favored the full implementation of the five-day school week.
In a separate survey, 66.9 percent of the responding 2,298 teachers also agreed to the new measure.
Internationally, Japan has already carried out the five-day school week, while in some U.S. states schools only keep their door open four days a week.
However, some civic groups and parents have continued to express concerns about the children-left-behind.
Because the government’s measure is targeting mainly the first- and second-grade students and children of underprivileged households, most upper graders at elementary schools and middle school students are unlikely to benefit from them.
“The measure is aimed at encouraging children to spend more time with family and do other creative activities. But in reality it’s very hard for parents to do such special activities every week,” said Choi Mi-sook, head of a school parent community Haksamo.
“After all, many parents would send their children to private academies during the weekend, while low-income parents would have no choice but to keep their children idle,” she said.
Choi added the new system should be implemented in phases and more education programs be developed.
The Education Ministry plans to revise the related law by August to adjust the number of class days, while setting up a cooperative network of related government offices.
By Lee Ji-yoon (email@example.com