Seoul will provide all first-year students in the city’s middle and high schools with a one-off stipend of 300,000 won ($265), starting from next year, the city‘s education office announced Thursday.
“When children advance to middle or high schools, households have to provide them with new uniforms, textbooks, stationery items and, in the coronavirus situation, smart devices,” said Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon, explaining the stipend plan.
“In a situation where households run into greater difficulties from the coronavirus outbreak and income disparity widens, we have prepared a measure that comprehensively supports households with children entering middle and high schools.”
For its first year, a budget of 41 billion won will be required, as around 136,700 students are expected to enter middle and high schools in Seoul next March, he said.
Half of that will be covered by the SMOE, 30 percent by the Seoul city government and the remaining 20 percent by district governments. The stipend will be given out in February in the form of a limited-use Zero Pay voucher. Zero Pay is Seoul’s internal mobile payment system.
The vouchers can be used for purchases of clothing and smart devices only, but the office is working to include stationery items and books.
Cho played down concerns over budgetary constraints, stressing that the project has been sufficiently discussed with and is backed by the city council as well as district governments.
“We understand budgetary worries, but there have been requests (for this measure) from the city council since last year, and four Seoul district governments have mentioned such requests from parents,” Cho said.
On Tuesday, Cho said his office would need at least 3 trillion won more in annual budget going forward, in order to be able to bankroll existing and planned projects such as free high school education, renovations of old school buildings and expansion of financial support in pre-primary education.
Its 2020 budget was around 10 trillion won.
By Ko Jun-tae (firstname.lastname@example.org