The Korea Herald

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Ministry extends after-school programs

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : Jan. 24, 2024 - 20:02

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Soon-to-be first graders visit their new elementary school in Seocho-gu, Seoul, in early January. (Yonhap) Soon-to-be first graders visit their new elementary school in Seocho-gu, Seoul, in early January. (Yonhap)

South Korea announced plans to dramatically extend after-school care and reform education programs for elementary school students in an effort to combat the country's low birth rate.

Under the extension plan announced by the Ministry of Education on Wednesday, before and after-school child care programs provided by elementary schools will be extended, opening from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., and closing at 8 p.m., officials said.

Previously, after-school programs were provided to some 50.3 percent of students until 7 p.m. at the latest. With the new plan, the government aims to launch the extended program at about 2,000 elementary schools in the first semester this year and apply it to every elementary school in the nation by the second semester. Currently eligible to only the first graders, the program will be extended to all elementary students who wish to take part in the program by the year 2026.

As part of the plan, the ministry will also operate a special education program for elementary school first graders to provide a variety of after-school activities, including sports, arts and programs to enhance and support their mental health. The two-hour programs after school will be provided free of charge to alleviate the burden of working parents.

To prevent the burden of after-school care being pushed onto teachers, the government will come up with a special organization that is only dedicated to after-school programs.

"More than 2,250 substitute teachers will be deployed just for the after-school programs in the first semester of 2024. In the second semester, there will be at least one staff member dedicated for the after-school operation, so that the burden of labor for the after-school programs can be lifted from teachers," Education Minister Lee Ju-ho said at the briefing Wednesday. Local communities and universities in the region will take part to provide relevant programs. By 2025, the government aims to differentiate the responsibility of school teachers and after-school services.

The government also plans to push for the integration of supervision of nurseries and kindergartens by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Education, respectively, in a bid to unify state management of children's education and daycare while resolving the gap between institutions.

In Korea, children aged zero to five can go to nurseries that mainly offer childcare services. Kindergartens accept children aged over three only, focusing more on offering education before they go to elementary school.

"We propel the integration of nurseries and kindergartens to complete the world's best education and nursing for children aged 0 to 5. By June, the centralized early childhood care and education management system will be unified under the Ministry of Education," the ministry said.

A financial investment plan, as well as a personnel and budget transfer plan will be established by June to promote the integration of local organizations into city and provincial offices of education. The government will map out the idea for the unified model and designate 30 demonstrational organizations as test beds.

The government has also come up with strategies to attract foreign talent by encouraging local government, universities and companies in the region, offering internships and enhancing support for certain career paths.

The Education Ministry plans to build 10 centers in big cities such as Los Angeles; Tokyo and Osaka, Japan; and Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to provide counseling and systematic programs for foreign students.