Schools in Greater Seoul area implement measures equal to Level 3 social distancing

Posted on : 2020-08-26 17:30 KST Modified on : 2020-08-26 17:30 KST
All students except high school seniors to take online classes until Sept. 11
A student at an elementary school in Seoul waves goodbye to his teacher after classes on Aug. 25, as schools in the Greater Seoul region are scheduled to hold classes remotely until Sept. 11. (Kim Bong-gyu, staff photographer)
A student at an elementary school in Seoul waves goodbye to his teacher after classes on Aug. 25, as schools in the Greater Seoul region are scheduled to hold classes remotely until Sept. 11. (Kim Bong-gyu, staff photographer)

As a renewed outbreak of COVID-19 has prompted discussions over whether to upgrade the country’s social distancing regimen to Level 3, all schools in the Seoul Capital Area (SCA) will suspend in-person classes until Sept. 11. It’s a case of schools taking the first step in applying what amount to Level 3 measures. High school seniors are to continue in-person classes, as the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT, also known as the “Suneung”) is scheduled for Dec. 3. Amid growing fears that the suspension of classes will result in a vacuum in terms of looking after children, some are suggesting the government should expand caregiving leave and other government support measures for family caregiving.

168 confirmed cases among Greater Seoul students alone; preemptive suspension measures

In a briefing on Aug. 25, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Yoo Eun-hae said, “Having concluded that powerful preemptive measures are needed, all kindergartens, elementary, middle, and high schools, and special schools in the Greater Seoul area will be transitioning to fully remote classes from Aug. 26 to Sept. 11.”

While the original plan was for only one-third of students (and two-thirds at high schools) in the SCA to physically attend class as of Aug. 26, the aggressive spread of COVID-19 among students and staff prompted the decision to close schools entirely and hold classes remotely. An exception will be made for students in the third year of high school, given their need for physical instruction about entering the workforce or continuing their studies.

Statistics provided by the Ministry of Education show that students at 2,100 schools in 12 metropolitan cities and provinces around Korea could not attend school on Tuesday, including 157 schools in Seoul, 167 in Incheon, and 524 in Gyeonggi Province. As the second wave of the coronavirus was intensifying between July 11 and 24, 230 students were diagnosed with COVID-19, 168 of them in the SCA.

Shutting schools down around the country and holding classes remotely is ordinarily a social distancing measure taken at Level 3. But as Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae explained, “We’re adopting the strictest measures that are available under Level 2 so that we don’t have to go to Level 3. We’ll decide whether to extend the timeframe after Sept. 11 in connection with the level of social distancing decreed by the disease control authorities.”

As all classes in the SCA go online at the beginning of the fall semester, a step that was taken nationwide in the spring semester, parents are beset with troubles. Not only do parents have to look after young children as kindergartens and elementary schools close their doors, but they’re also worried about the widening gap in their children’s education. “We had a really hard time during the months when the spring semester began online, and it’s awful to think about going through that again,” said a parent with children at an elementary school and kindergarten in the SCA.

“Elementary schools in the Greater Seoul area will provide emergency care service for the children of families that really need it from 9 am to 7 pm, with lunch served to students,” the education authorities said. But some argue that emergency care alone won’t be enough to plug the gap in childcare. That has led to a push for measures to increase family leave days for parents who already used all their leave in the first half of the year.

No change to CSAT date, education minister says

During an appearance at a full session of the National Assembly’s Education Committee on Tuesday, Yoo reiterated the government’s stance that it would not change the date of the CSAT, Korea’s college entrance exam. Yoo admitted that “if Level 3 social distancing remains in effect until the CSAT date, we might have to change our plans” and added that “talking about this so soon could create chaos in the classroom.”

The education minister also addressed proposals to hold the CSAT online or in shifts. “There are difficulties with implementing such plans right now in Korean society because of the critical importance of the CSAT being impartial,” she said. The Education Ministry has already said that it will administer the CSAT to infected students in hospitals and students who are in quarantine or who have COVID-like symptoms at separate testing sites.

In addition to students in the third year of high school, students in need of remedial education will be allowed to receive face-to-face instruction at school in addition to their remote classes. Schools for the disabled, schools with no more than 60 students, and schools in rural areas will be allowed to decide for themselves whether to switch to remote learning depending on the local situation, after soliciting the opinions of staff, parents, and students.

Since these measures fall under Level 2, the authorities will not be adopting a pass-fail approach to attendance, assessment, and recordkeeping for the first and second years of middle school. The pass-fail approach applies to Level 3.

By Choi Won-hyung, staff reporter

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