The Korea Herald


Education Ministry considers delaying opening of schools

Parents, teachers back postponement in school openings

By Ock Hyun-ju

Published : March 15, 2020 - 15:55

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(Yonhap) (Yonhap)

South Korea is considering further delaying the opening of kindergartens and schools nationwide until early April amid lingering concerns over the spread of novel coronavirus despite signs of a slowdown in new infections.

The opening of kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools were pushed back for two weeks until March 23 as part of the government’s efforts to stem the spread of the virus as the country saw hundreds of new COVID-19 cases in February.

The Ministry of Education said Saturday it will announce a decision on whether to postpone the opening of schools on Monday at the earliest after consulting with health authorities, experts and those in the education field.

The move comes as the government grapples with clusters of infections across the country, although Korea reported a two-digit increase in new cases on Sunday after more than three weeks of registering more than 100 new infections. There were 8,162 cases with 75 deaths here as of Sunday.

Parents, students and teachers appear to think it is premature to open the schools again, given the facilities are more vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases.

“I am still worried to send my children back to school so I think I will let them take absence for extracurricular activities,” a mother of 8-year-old and 11-year-old children, who only gave her surname Choi.

More than 96,000 people have signed a petition on the presidential office’s website as of Sunday, asking for the delay.  

“It is a relief that the number of new infections have started to dwindle, but it is still worrisome so I support delaying opening of schools by two more weeks,” said Park Su-jin, a sixth-grade teacher at an elementary school in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province.

“Also, considering that children are restless and they should take off masks during meals … there is a higher chance of the virus spreading in classrooms.”

Another teacher pointed to a shortage of masks.

“There are not enough masks for both students and teachers at schools, meaning we should bring masks ourselves,” said Jung Hanna, who teaches at a middle school on Jeju Island, adding only 10 masks were given per class for “emergencies.”

“Many parents told me they were worried about sending children back to school without masks.”

The number of students at elementary, middle and high schools is estimated at 5.4 million as of last year.

The delay, however, could add to confusion in the education field.

Changes to the academic schedule and curriculums should be made as schools will have to find alternatives to meet the legally required number of working days -- such as slashing summer vacations or holding extra classes.

Under local laws, the number days elementary, middle and high schools should be open is set at 190. In accordance with the ministry’s guidelines released in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, up to 19 days could be reduced.

Such uncertainties place a burden on students, especially those preparing for the college entrance exam.

“I feel so worried that my plans won’t stick and all the academic schedules -- including the date for mock college exams -- will get delayed,” said Jeong Hyun-seo, a 19-year-old preparing for this year’s college entrance exam that is scheduled for Nov. 19.

“The fact that we may get a shorter summer vacation is also burdensome because that is when we focus on wrapping up what we learn and prepare for the exam.”

The country’s biggest teachers’ labor group -- Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations -- called for the delay in school openings on Friday.

“It is inevitable to delay the opening of schools if the trend of community spread continues like this,” the group said in a statement.

Cho Hee-yeon, head of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, also posted on social media Saturday that he thought it would be inevitable to delay school openings, citing the public campaign of “social distancing.”